By:  Holly Horning

“Never let the past spoil your present or govern your future.” – Author Unknown

In order to understand what the future holds, we need to analyze the past. History is always a great teacher. That is, if you take the time to understand the cause and effect from past actions.

Which is why I was initially heartened by the news that the Tigers had started investing in the roots of their system after Dave Dombrowski had ignored it for 13 years. All that money Dave was given was poured directly into signing MLB-ready players.

In an interview, Dave Littlefield, VP of Player Development, mentioned that the team now has a structured (no longer voluntary) nutritional program. The Tigers, under Avila and Littlefield, have hired a mental skills (aka sports psychologist) coach who works with both the major and minor league players. And, they’ve added more resources to the strength and conditioning staff. Littlefield was quoted as saying that all aspects of the game have to be addressed which is why there is now this focus.

Of course, this all takes time in order to see results. But the fact that they are now, finally, addressing these issues, offers hope.

With the passing of the reins to Al Avila, the Tigers have adopted analytics and developed their own software program. And they finally started revamping the minor league system. For a team that is in rebuilding mode, these are all steps in the right direction.

But the alarm bells went off in my head after watching the game the other day. It was nothing that I saw. It was what I heard.

Kirk Gibson reported about how involved Jim Leyland is with the team.

And it’s worse than we thought.

Gibby reported that JL meets with Gardy every single morning to give his feedback and insights about the team. He offers his opinion on who should make the team, what the roster should look like and what waiver decisions should be made. He’s even been asked to weigh in about future draft picks.

So much for hoping that this team was finally shaking off its old formula.  A formula that resulted in one of the biggest collections of the most talented MLB players ever assembled – and one that was unable to win more than a single World Series game.

Say what you will about the Tigers having many years of success and division titles. And if you don’t care that there has been a 33-year drought since the last World Series title, that’s fine, too. But the truth is that Mr. I hired Dombrowski, Avila and Leyland to get him that ring and they had 13 years to get it right.

But didn’t.

So logically, this track record would tell us that the old methods didn’t work and that an entirely new strategy needs to be developed for winning. And logic also tells us that the same people responsible for the failed ability to reach the designated goal are not the ones to lead this team to the promised land. That new people, new ways and new thoughts are needed.

But for all intents and purposes, the same people, minus the new manager, are still in charge. And that is the definition of insanity.

Jim Leyland is not just a “special assistant.” He is impacting policy and decisions. And he’s doing it every day. He’s even going on many of the tv and radio broadcasts to give interviews that portray him as an essential cog of the organization.

Look around MLB. How many other teams keep their former managers around to impact policy? For allowing them to hover over their managerial successors? To have a significant amount of influence and not even hold the title of an upper executive?

It is a singularly strange and impractical way of doing business. Successful business, that is.

To give someone who managed his team to be good, but not good enough, that amount of influence, how can you expect real change to happen? For mistakes to be corrected? For different strategies and methods to be implemented?

Simply, you can’t. The Tigers, in effect, are trying to move forward, but their rear bumper is still firmly chained to the old mile post.

Is the decision based out of loyalty? We’ve written about that trait in these blogs.

Is it out of fear? A fear of change? Is that fear part of the reason why this team is always among the very last to catch up to the newer strategies in baseball?

Or is it based upon the corporate culture? Examples not being set? An unclear vision that lacks the necessary outline and steps?

Or a combination?

Your guess is as good as mine.

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By:  Holly Horning

On Wednesday, we learned from one of our loyal readers, Nick M., about the horrific story involving former ballplayer (and former Tigers minor-leaguer), Danry Vasquez who was seen in a video beating his girlfriend (and former fiancée) in a stairwell.

Of course, it was appalling. Of course, we are all incensed. And needless to say, we all felt that punishment should have included time behind bars.

But as much as this story angers us, let’s not cover a subject in which there is no debate. Let’s address what is not being done. Let’s look at the bigger picture.

Because you see, the incident that everyone is talking about happened over 2 years ago, not just recently. While Vasquez was with the Astros and then released after they viewed the footage. His fiancée failed to press charges but the team could have done more. Instead, they kept this concern internal, allowing Vasquez to continue pursuing a baseball career. And he signed with another team immediately afterwards. A team that did not know his history.

That is until some good Samaritan within law enforcement re-released the video via social media in order to garner world-wide attention. And the reason they did it was because justice had not been served. For everything he had done, Vasquez received a slap on the wrist and had his case dismissed.

Justice that was unable to be served and the Astros who preferred not to tarnish their organization’s image by allowing this to simply fade away.

And given that Vasquez was initially signed by the Tigers out of Venezuela (and played within their minor league system), there was no coverage of the story in the Detroit papers. Everywhere else, this was major news. Everywhere, it seemed, but Detroit.

But then both Justin and Ben Verlander tweeted about it. Ben who was a teammate of Vasquez’s. But the Detroit media didn’t focus on the assault angle – they wrote about what JV and his brother said. And there were no quotes from anyone associated with the Tigers about Vasquez.  It also appeared that no one within the local media asked.

The bigger picture about how this serious incident was handled is not necessarily about how teams prioritize their image over addressing and trying to send a message to wrong-doers. It’s about how seriously MLB guards and controls its own image. Much more so than the other professional sports associations.

An organization that is focused on the positive stuff, especially the “feel good” stories and occasionally offers window dressing policies that are not uniformly enforced. Including domestic assault incidences in which some players are punished and others aren’t. And no one gets kicked out of the sport.

But it even goes beyond that.

The lack of balance in reporting MLB news is everywhere. You see it in all the games you watch. Every game, no matter the feed, is sanctioned by MLB. They have to give their approval for whatever is shown or said on the broadcast. A policy that has the broadcasters thinking twice before they say what they really believe. We saw it with Ron Darling when he dared to criticize a team’s medical staff and got threatening phone calls from above immediately afterwards.

The same goes for MLB.tv and MLB Radio. And also MLB publications. The writers who are hired to cover each team are under the auspices of MLB. Look at the tiny print at the end of those articles that indicate the connection between the two. In fact, MLB owns each team’s website – and runs it.

What this means is that you will never get the real or balanced stories from these groups. You will never hear critical dialog discussing the problems with players, managers, teams or owners. It is all sanitized. Just like the Vasquez attack several years ago that no one, other than the Astros and the Commissioner’s Office, knew about.

How many of you read the story about the forced retirement of MLB’s rainmaker? The guy in charge of MLB’s Advanced Media, widely considered to be the #2 person in MLB because he created a digital and media cash cow for the association? If you did, you didn’t read it in an MLB-sanctioned media report. But it was covered extensively in the non-baseball media.

A guy who was allegedly known by many within the industry to practice sexual harassment, have inappropriate relationships with his subordinates and created a toxic workplace environment. Major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that his behavior was widely known within corporate MLB and by the current and previous Commissioners. All of it ignored for over a decade until it couldn’t be ignored any more.

And yet, he wasn’t fired or disciplined for his behavior. He was allowed to go away quietly.

MLB continued their practice of protecting their image with the plane crash of Roy Halladay. A pitching icon and fan favorite who died after crashing his plane into the water. His autopsy showed that morphine, amphetamines and Ambien were found in his system at levels deemed consistent to impairing his ability to fly. And again, a story ignored by media associated with MLB.

Should we even be surprised that the Vasquez video only recently surfaced to the public because someone within law enforcement felt it was necessary?

Sure, we all understand the importance of protecting our organization’s image. But how far should it go?

And at what point does your ability to control the message start hurting other people?

Can you protect your image while also doing good?  By raising awareness?

All good questions that MLB needs to start addressing.

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By:  Holly Horning

Spring training is at the halfway mark, and for the Tigers, it’s a very different year than it has been in the past. The slate has been wiped clean. We still have a newish owner and a brand new manager. There’s even going to be a new roster in which more than half of the non-pitching field positions are going to have new players.

What this means for us fans, right now, is that we don’t have as much information as we’d like. “New” takes time.

We don’t yet possess enough insight about this year’s team in order to take a single topic and address it in the detail required or desired. And after all, it’s spring training, when stuff never really counts. Until it does.

But this is the perfect time to lasso a bunch of random thoughts and observations swirling around in my head. Little bite-size nuggets. Small in content, much bigger in meaning.

And unlike a certain lead Tigers’ beat reporter who stole Kurt’s idea, format and even writing style without giving him credit, I am fully admitting to borrowing from the best. Kurt’s original idea, 20 (fill in the month) Thoughts, several years later, remains the best way to share lots of ideas. Kurt, your commission check is in the mail.

But I’m going to give it my own personal twist – which is, of course, based upon what I have seen visually and factually with the team. Don’t forget, in our partnership, Kurt is the touchy-feely one. I tend towards irreverence.

Without further adieu, let’s give it a go, shall we?

1. The Twins just released Anibal Sanchez who will earn $7.5 million this year between the Twins ($2.5 mill) and the Tigers’ buyout ($5 mill), without having thrown a single pitch in the regular season. There’s a lot of people out there who wouldn’t mind being in his position.

2. Victor Martinez has hit 4 HRs (almost 5) in just 32 at-bats and an OPS of 1.011. He is also smiling. I am hopeful.

3. Can you remember a Tigers’ manager before Ron Gardenhire who dared to publicly breathe a word about the sloppy play of the team? Me neither.

4. First came Mike Pelfrey. Now, if Jordan Zimmermann can’t recover his form and if Mike Fiers turns out to be a bust, someone within the Front Office will lose their job in 2018. Chris Ilitch won’t be happy wasting $132 million just on those 3.

5. Speaking of Mike Fiers, can someone please explain the rationale of the Tigers doubling his salary from last year? The same year he went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA, a 1.428 WHIP and ended up being dumped from Houston’s playoff squad. Anyone else thinking he may become Mike Pelfrey II?

6. I love the look of the new manager and coaches. Crisp, sharp and all wearing the same team uniform. Uniforms serve an important role in “unifying” a group and making them into one unit. Those who don’t wear what everyone else does, stand out and show others that they are not part of the group. Brad Ausmus didn’t wear the team uniform. Just sayin’.

7. Attendance this year could be worse than we think. Sunday’s game, on a beautiful day, had a half-empty ballpark with many seats behind home plate empty. And it wasn’t early or late in the game.

8. Speaking of attendance, the Tigers have had to resort to selling tickets for Opening Day on Groupon. When was the last time that happened?

9. While we go back through our memories, can you also remember the last Tiger to hit an inside-the-park home run like Leonys Martin did the other day?

10. Did you notice that the Tigers never released an official statement about their TV broadcast crew this year? At least not publicly. And I don’t think it was because they forgot.

11. When was the last time the Tigers had so many new players in so many new positions? Five non-pitching slots so far and conceivably 2 more may be added to that total at some point this year.

12. Ron Gardenhire is playing with the lineup. A refreshing change after the same lineup written in ink over the past years, but does this signal good news or concerning news?

13. The Tigers have taken their payroll from $208 million down to $142 million. A savings of $66 million. So why are some of the ticket prices going up? And why are the rest of the prices staying the same?

14. The organization continues to cut costs behind the scenes. While the team has played 21 spring training games so far, with over half of them advertised as being broadcast by Fox Sports Detroit (a financial partner), only 2-3 have actually featured the Detroit media team. The rest of the games could only be viewed via the other team’s broadcast system.

15. Saving the best for last! The new manager and coaches are gum chewers, not seed spitters. Even if the team doesn’t do well this year, it will be more enjoyable watching them. Especially when the cameras pan to the dugout.

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By:  Holly Horning

I was listening to the year in review the other day when the analysts reminded us that Houston had won the World Series in a year in which their city experienced one of the worst natural disasters.

Many of the Astros, including Justin Verlander, were quoted as dedicating their performances to all of those who lost belongings and friends/family to Hurricane Harvey.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this. But it was the first time I started to wonder if there was a connection between significant disasters a city or region experiences and other baseball teams in recent memory who rose to the challenge.

You don’t have to go back very far to remember how the Boston Red Sox were very vocal about winning it all back in 2013 after the Boston Bombings. This, after a year in which they solidly finished last in the AL East. Well under .500 and 26 games back.

And, of course, the Bosox won it all in 2013 going from 69 wins to 97.

A year after the bombing, they returned to the cellar for both 2014 and 2015. Again, well under .500.

Was 2013 a freak year or could you argue that when an entire team bands together with a singular wish and goal, fueled by passion and determination, that they can overcome any odds?

In 2001, the NY Yankees dedicated the rest of their season to those who suffered in the 9/11 attacks. They managed to overcome the powerhouse Mariners who won 116 games that year to end up in the World Series against the Diamondbacks. They took the contest to 7 games and almost won. The Diamondbacks managed to eke out the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, earning the ring by a score of 3-2.

The St. Louis Cardinals, in 2011, did the same thing after one of this country’s worst tornadoes destroyed their state and killed hundreds.

And in 1967, Detroit experienced horrendous riots in the late summer. While the timing impacted their ability to effect change, they finished 20 games above .500, vastly improving their record during the remaining part of the summer. And ended the year just 1 game out of first place.

In 1968, the Tigers were considered to be the World Series underdogs. But 1967 was still fresh in their minds and the city still experiencing unrest. This was a team that had the same determination, the same goal and the same passion as the Boston, Houston and New York teams that came after it. St. Louis didn’t have a chance.

While no one wants to see history repeat itself, it’s worth noting that the power of the mind can create results that mere physical talent cannot. Combine it with a clear vision and goal, add everyone on the team buying in, and nothing is impossible.

The real question to ask is whether it is possible to achieve this level of mindfulness, determination and results in times of calm and prosperity.

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By:  Holly Horning

Let’s take a quick quiz, shall we?

Who is the Invisible Man?

1. Claude Rains who starred in those ancient black and white movies of the same name where his character donned bandages, glasses and hats in order to be seen.

2. The title of one of the greatest American novels ever written by Ralph Ellison.

3. Dave Clark, the third base coach of the Tigers.

If you watched Tiger games over the past 4 years, and also the spring training game the other day, you know the answer to this one.

Once again, Miguel Cabrera blatantly ignored Dave’s desperate plea to stop at third base and he barreled through, getting thrown out at home by a mile.

Since 2014, Miggy has had a habit of ignoring management. Playing when it was apparent he should be on the DL. Ignoring his third base coach’s signals. And for 4 years, no one said a peep to him.

But that changed the other day when Ron Gardenhire approached Miggy as he headed back to the dugout. Gardy asked him to explain his rationale. Cabrera gave one. An explanation that now has been used up and can’t be recycled again.

And this is a good sign. There’s a new sheriff in town who has been brought in, in part, to restore law and order.

But notice that Gardy didn’t yell. His face didn’t turn red. And he didn’t punish Miggy in any way.

But he did put Miggy on notice. Diplomatically. And he didn’t throw him under the bus to the media.

Gardy’s a smart man. You don’t anger your most expensive roster player who has no chance of being traded. You don’t make a player unhappy who can then spread his bad attitude to the rest of the clubhouse.

You gradually put up speed bumps that inspire him to gradually change his ways. Methods that preserve the ego and allow the player to think that he changed his ways because he wanted to do it.

And unfortunately, you must have different ways of working with different players. Your rookie making minimum and still uncertain about his long-term position with the team is going to be very malleable and in a position of no power. Your star, your franchise face, your future Hall of Famer, your most expensive player and a guy still owed $184 million is going to require a very different approach.

In part, because of the investment and his direct line to the GM and owner. But also because he can get the manager fired or at the very least, render him ineffective with the rest of the team.

Just ask Bryce Harper who was a catalyst in getting his last 2 managers canned.

The days of the gruff, bombastic manager are gone as surely as having your starting pitcher throw a complete game. Managers now have to be diplomats. In part because how people communicate, especially the millennial players, has changed dramatically But it’s also due to money. The bigger the contract, the more power a player has.

So expect Gardy to practice what the French call “the iron fist in the velvet glove.” He drew a line in the sand by talking to Miggy and leaving a gentle reminder. A reminder that will now tell Miggy if he does it again, Gardy is going to talk to him again. And Miggy will need to find another excuse. One that sounds plausible.

Cabrera will realize that if he continues, it will eventually turn into a failed strategy for him. When you allow the other person to come to their own conclusion about changing, instead of fighting them on it, you win the battle. And best of all, the player is also going to think he won, too.

But it’s going to be a gradual process. We’re still going to see some players, especially the more expensive veterans, do their own thing. But it will be happening less and less. You can’t undo 4 years of zero enforcement in 1 or even 2 months.

But eventually, there will be less loafing to first base, more situational hitting and even a recognition that there is an actual live body standing in that box outside of third base.  And that he is there for a reason.

And if you haven’t noticed, the Tigers DH is no longer hitting 4th. He’s been moved down in the order. And writers reported seeing him smile the other day.

I think the strategy is starting to work.

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By:  Holly Horning

…makes us stronger.”

A little known fact – Friedrich Nietzsche uttered these immortal words after working out with a personal trainer.

OK, maybe a slight exaggeration, but his words were the first things running through my mind at the gym the other day.

I made a foolish, impulsive mistake. And I blame it all on Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn.

I happened to watch a video of how she trains for the downhill and was floored by what I saw. I was pretty proud of the fact that I could do squats with weights on a BOSU but Lindsey does them standing on a freakin’ balance ball while holding a weight roughly equivalent to that of a small child.

For the record, Miguel Cabrera, only this year, is able to kneel on a balance ball without holding any weights.

Watching Lindsey’s training regime prompted me to call my personal trainer and tell him that I needed to up my game. He became positively gleeful. Probably because he tortures people for a living.

Before I describe the sheer terror and punishment I endured – with periodic flashbacks of my life during certain exercises – as I went through the drills, it’s important to understand my background.

I have always been athletic. Twenty+ years of classical ballet, yoga and reformer Pilates as my training and conditioning foundations. Lots of outdoor and indoor sports as well as a dedicated gym rat 5 days/week. I run 2+ miles every day. I’ve also been known to drag big, heavy car parts across a gym field. And I’ve worked with personal trainers for years as well as having a few professional sports PTs as clients.

What this all means is that I walk the walk. My background, especially with my ballet, yoga, Pilates training and regular tune-ups with a physical therapist, have given me a detailed understanding of how all the muscles, tendons and other body bits allow humans to move freely – or not. And it’s provided great discussion topics with personal trainers as it pertains to the training and conditioning of professional athletes.

I belong to a hard-core gym owned by a former Olympic medalist. And many of the clients who work out there are serious athletes. Some of them professional. And I watch them. I watch their routines and I watch how they move.

I watch the body builders. Guys, like many professional athletes, who can’t buy their clothes off the racks. Guys who often wear braces on their joints due to previous and long-standing injuries. Guys who grunt a lot and move very slowly. Guys with slower response times. Guys who spend the majority of their time only lifting weights because they believe that is the only way to go.

And then there are the ones who cross-train. Many of them visibly muscular but also taller, leaner and much, much faster. They lift their weights but they split it evenly between fine muscle tuning and aerobic activity. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a big part of their routine. And as a result, they appear healthier, have faster response times and can much more easily switch gears at a second’s notice. They pivot, stop and start seamlessly. All without pulling or tweaking something unlike Travis Wood and Francisco Liriano. And you don’t see them hobbled or wearing protective braces.

And it’s to this latter group I pledge my allegiance. Having the capacity to not only build muscle, but to also outlast others in endurance, to be fast with cat-like reflexes and to have a supple, flexible body structure that helps to keep me physically young, moving easily and preventing injury.

Priorities that made me re-think my goals as my personal trainer pulled out a large, tall box and wanted me to do bigger box jumps. That’s when visions of Daniel Norris and his injury resulting from a crash-and-burn box jumping session last year flashed before my eyes.

Which now brings me to the Tigers.

I’ve been to a number of the Tigers’ spring training games, always arriving as the doors just open and the players have started to run through drills on the field. And I’ve got to say, I personally know at least a couple dozen middle-aged men and women who are more flexible and limber than the majority of the team.

Some of the players appear disinterested and unfocused while simply going through the motions. It was astounding to see how many could not even touch their toes or do the basic ground stretches to an acceptable level. The bigger players especially appeared to have a harder time doing the drills that are supposed to keep them healthy and prevent injury.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. They reminded me of the big, bulky guys in the gym who have problems moving fluidly. Guys with muscles so big that their bulk prohibits the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, etc. from moving freely and easily. And when you need to move quickly and suddenly, but the response time is lagging, that’s when you get hurt.

And it becomes an even bigger issue when it involves your franchise face who happens to have one of sports’ most expensive contracts. Miggy. A man who has been injured every year since 2013 with feet, tendon, knee, core and now vertebrae problems.

I’m amazed that only now has he, and the Tigers, started to address his physical conditioning after playing baseball professionally for 20 years. Why does it have to take a career-worst year and intense work-stopping pain to inspire change?

Cabrera finally admitted that maybe he shouldn’t have focused solely on weight-lifting. That maybe he should have spent more time addressing the overall conditioning. That maybe, he should have done some core work.

The core is the center, or foundation, of the body which holds up and aligns everything within the entire body. A core, that when absent or weak, throws the body out of alignment and creates an environment that welcomes injury. Especially when it comes to the back.

“Core” work is something that has been absent within the Tigers’ training and conditioning program. It is silly that an (almost) 35-year-old professional athlete is just now discovering its importance 2 decades after signing his first baseball contract.

But we’re now hearing from older ballplayers with other teams about how they have changed their training regimen. The trend is moving away from spending quality time just lifting weights and running. They are working towards whole-body fitness. Doing more conditioning, flexibility exercises and less lifting. Several of whom became quite vocal this off-season about how the programs meant to lengthen and strengthen bones and soft tissue have extended their careers and gotten them in the best shape possible.

More and more teams are requiring their players to take Pilates and yoga in the off-season as well as during spring training. Two disciplines attached to studies that show fewer injuries happen. One that even correlates the practice of Pilates with pitchers who are able to increase and maintain their pitch speed as they age.

It’s just too bad that some teams don’t explore the advantages until constant, nagging or severe injuries make it the last resort. Especially when you have a team in which 3 of your top players, making a combined $72 million in 2018 alone, haven’t been healthy in years.

I don’t think I’m alone in wondering if the Tigers had incorporated more conditioning and flexibility programs into their player development whether some of the players, and the yearly results, would have turned out differently.

But what we do know is that neglecting the strategies that keep one healthy is not a sound way to protect expensive investments.

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By:  Holly Horning

When we talk about baseball players, we usually understand their strengths. Whether they are great at hitting or at fielding. Sometimes solidly possessing both skills.

And then there’s the phrase “5 tool player” which refers to a player who is solid at all the top baseball skills.

But what about GMs? They’re people, too.

And for some reason, many in the baseball world – from owners to fans – believe that every GM should be strong in every aspect of their job.

But is that a fair assumption to make?

Should every GM be required to excel in every facet?

And how many of today’s GMs actually do?

Before we can analyze, let’s identify the primary skills required of a GM:

– Scouting

– Drafting

– Signing current players/free agents

– Trading

– Negotiations

– Creating and implementing a vision and strategy

– Hiring Front Office personnel

– Hiring the manager

– Implementing the owner’s strategy

– Establishing and maintaining the corporate culture

– Matching needs with budget

And each of these skills also requires an understanding of human nature, understanding and hiring the right mix of personalities, communication skills (with the team, media and fans) and a working knowledge of both legal and financial skills.

It’s a tall order.

Many considered Dave Dombrowski to be one of the best GMs when he was with the Tigers. But how many of these skills did (and does) he actually possess?

Sure, Dave was the absolute best at trading. No one better. But he was only fair at drafting and did nothing to improve the Tigers’ organization when it came to the farm system and new trends such as analytics and technology. And he often bumped heads with Mr. I.

One could look at his decade+ time with Detroit as working towards a singular goal and not towards strengthening the organization as a whole or planning for the future.

Most notable was his failure to understand the developing trends such as the rise of the bullpen, analytics and finding the right mix of personalities and leaders in the clubhouse who would bond with each other and unify under a single goal.

If we turn to Al Avila, 2 years+ is not enough time to get a full read on his skills. GMs are often hired in 5 year increments because it takes that long in order to see if the plan and efforts are paying off.

Granted, the visible evidence we have seen so far is not promising. But are we judging him solely on his failed results with signing certain players like Zimmermann and Pelfrey?

Are we giving Trader Dave extra credit because he made big, splashy signings and not giving enough credit to Avila because he’s making the quiet, low-key moves that strengthen a system silenty and from deep within, instead of visible to everyone watching the game?

Could Al actually be the opposite of Trader Dave? Could his strengths actually be Dombrowski’s weaknesses – and vice versa?

Avila was the first GM in a long time to tackle the farm system – both in stocking it and changing long-entrenched personnel. He introduced a systematic performance book and built an analytics department. And in (finally) hiring a new manager, he was quoted as saying that Gardenhire would come in and change the corporate culture.

As for many of the other skills listed above, it is too soon to tell how successful Avila’s moves will be. We also don’t know what the new and silent owner has told him about the team’s future – or what resources he has given him. We do understand that he has nowhere near the options and money Dave had when he held the same position.

And quite frankly, Avila is also charged with the task of mopping up the mess that was largely created by the former owner and GM. Dave got to do the fun stuff but these are different times and different situations. Al is now tasked with doing the dirty work. And to be fair, we have to say the jury is still out.

But if you look around MLB, you’ll see that other teams understand how much their GMs are required to do. And they also realize that the GM can’t be an expert in all of these areas. Which is why the trend of hiring multiple “GM”s is happening with many of the teams.

If you look at the list of each team’s executives, you’ll generally only see 1 official General Manager. Unless you are Dave Dombrowski and eliminate the position of GM, assume the title of President and do the job of the GM.

But teams are now dividing the traditional GM job down into specialized roles. They are creating “Presidents” and “VP”s of Baseball Operations, Finance, Player Development, Analytics and other terms, giving each person the lead in running that aspect of the organization. In other words, they are hiring specialists to oversee specialized elements that each contribute to the job of finding, developing and fielding a team.

Front Offices are expanding exponentially as a result.

Will the Tigers follow suit? Probably not given their history of being among the very last to adapt to the latest and greatest trends. And also unlikely given that they are looking to cut payroll.

Al Avila though could sure use the help. He’s got a lot on his plate.

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By:  Holly Horning

It’s a better prognosticator than the groundhog. Spring training is back to assure us that spring is right around the corner. That is, unless you live in Michigan.

But while we eagerly take in these first few games, we still can’t see how things will change with the new regime. It’s too early yet. The manager is brand new and many of the players are still shrouded in mystery.

However, we can take some of the clues given to us and run with them. That, combined with the never-ending fountain of information Al Avila gladly offers us.

I have always detested those predictions made by newspapers, Vegas and well-meaning baseball analysts. Predictions meant to draw attention to those who make them – or to draw away well-earned paychecks. You will never catch me sharing my thoughts on who will win their division, playoffs or World Series. I always wait until the very end to see what happens. Or in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, I believe that “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

But what I can do is to share some thoughts on what we may see this year. All based upon track records and quotes – and compared to the patterns seen over the past 4 years.

Here are my top dozen early season indicators……..

1. The daily game results may be spirit-challenging, but at least the post-game interviews with Ron Gardenhire will be a breath of fresh air. Humor and a candid take will replace the defensive comments and trite “That’s baseball!” quotes.

2. The team will play fundamentally better baseball, but it will take at least a couple of months to see a pattern of consistency.

3. The player cliques that developed over the past 4 years won’t go away overnight, but they will gradually dissolve over the first half of the season.

4. There will be more base running. Proven players with speed and running smarts like Leonys Martin will be able to take a base at will and not have to get permission first.

5. Gardy is not going to have a problem moving VMart down in the order and he won’t be putting him directly behind Miggy in the lineup.

6. Old habits such as trotting to first base and routinely blowing past Dave Clark’s stop signs will be corrected but it may take a few months.

7. The perceived rift between Nick Castellanos and management over whether or not a contract extension was offered will continue to play out over the course of the year.

8. Just because it’s a new year and the team is rebuilding, the trades will continue to happen. Expect both Nick and Iggy to leave due to the combination of their higher salaries and maximum trade value given that their contracts are set to expire in the near future.

9. The new skipper will have a significantly different lineup and be much more flexible in moving players around, especially early in the year.

10. The bored, unfocused and uninspired looks of last year’s players will be replaced by guys who try harder and look interested, enthusiastic and hungry about playing the game.

11. The road between Detroit and Toledo will see much more traffic throughout the year as the Tigers tinker with their lineup and test the talents of their young.

12. There will much less spitting and fewer dugout dustups between teammates.

What other habits and behaviors can you add to this list?

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By:  Holly Horning

Baseball is back! There’s a new team, a new direction, a new goal and a new manager. And a new philosophy, strategy and way of doing business.

In many ways, it’s a refreshing change. There’s some stuff we haven’t seen in awhile but also a few hints that some of the previous year’s history still lingers. And it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the organization to be successful in changing it.

This resident image consultant has combed the pictures and quotes – so you don’t have to – to get that first impression about the upcoming year. Our profession preaches the importance of a first impression so it’s natural that the first blog since the players reported addresses this. Let’s hope that the stats that overwhelmingly prove that first impressions are almost always correct applies here.

And the good news is that, despite the warnings about what could happen this year in the standings, the team appears more upbeat and interested. It’s not Brad Ausmus’ team anymore.

So without further adieu, let’s take a look at the top 15 first impressions so far in these first 4 days.

1. Ron Gardenhire is a refreshing change from Brad Ausmus. He’s lively, smiling, joking and strongly engaged with everyone. Fans no longer have to suffer through the defensive, inane comments of Ausmus. Gardy’s comments contain content, no excuses and lots of humor. And his body language is much more comfortable and confident, too. He appears comfortable and knowledgeable wearing the managerial cap.

2. Of course, everyone comes to spring training saying that they are in the best physical condition of their lives. So don’t be surprised when you hear it from Miggy and VMart. They both said it in February last year and then 9 months later, said they were hurt all year long. Talk is cheap – it’s the results that rule. Let’s wait – and hope.

3. With Justin Verlander gone, and Miggy’s personal life continuing to cast a controversial cloud, more coverage is being given to Michael Fulmer. If he has a good year, expect him to inherit the mantle of the second Franchise Face. That is, if the Tigers don’t try to trade him.

4. Al Avila said the Tigers tried to extend Nick Castellanos over the winter but negotiations got nowhere. Yesterday, Nick Castellanos said it was (sic) “news to him.” What exactly is going on here?

5. Gardenhire and his coaches appear to be locked in and lovin’ their work. The coaches all meeting, working and coordinating together – and enjoying each other’s company. I don’t remember seeing pictures resembling any of this in the previous 4 years.

6. It appears Victor Martinez is still wearing a chip on his shoulder. He only connected with his new manager when he reported to camp and when asked why it took so long, he said that Gardy should have texted him. Communication works both ways, last I heard.

7. The Tigers’ skipper has made a point this week of approaching a number of veterans and asking them to take on specific leadership roles and help set the tone as well as mentor the youngest players. Leyland and Ausmus notoriously left players alone to do their own thing.

8. Leonys Martin is well-above the MLB average (90%) for catching balls in CF and has the ability to play shallow, yet still cover balls hit behind him. He’s also considered to be a natural leadoff hitter. If he goes back to his original swing from 2016, could the Tigers finally have their solution for Comerica’s cavernous CF?

9. The Tigers are finally catching up to the rest of MLB teams. They just purchased a Rapsodo pitching unit that collects data on 8 different pitching metrics (velocity, spin rate and efficiency, strike zone analysis and breaking patterns) and is the same unit Justin Verlander was using (and raved about) last year with the Astros. Could it be a sign that the Tigers are investing more in resources that help develop and instruct players instead of spending all their money on players’ salaries?

10. Hallelujah! The Tigers now have a full-time strength and conditioning coordinator. Previously, they have hired only seasonal employees. This one, hired last year, comes with degrees in health science and exercise physiology and a resume that includes the Dodgers and Giants and managing a top sports performance facility.

11. Miggy, VMart and Iggy seem to be inseparable during practices. All three who were “excused” from TigerFest. Two of them for “family emergencies” yet were photographed partying together in Miami during the team festivities. Gardy’s got some “clique-busting” to do.

12. It would have been nice to have seen some pictures of VMart talking to other teammates. There is a picture of him being greeted by an enthusiastic Lloyd McClendon who gave him a huge bear hug. Victor is shown with a one-arm return while turning the rest of his body away.

13. Ron Gardenhire seems to be everywhere on the field – and rarely on the sidelines. He’s in the field with bat and glove, working alongside the players. He’s also constantly communicating and calling out his evaluations to every Tiger who makes a play.

14. The new skipper has a reputation of being able to accomplish more with having less. Given all the positive pictures and quotes, it is realistically conceivable that the Tigers will improve upon last year’s record. They definitely will not be baseball’s worst team – an honor that will go to the Marlins and maybe the White Sox, too.

15. Players – or workers – take their cue from the leader. Gardy is the anti-Ausmus. He is energetic, positive, funny and involved. Expect better play this year. Expect to see players enjoying the game more. Expect more players to care about how their team does.

It may not be a good year standings-wise. But these initial readings are mostly good ones. Let’s hope the stats for first impressions prove true.

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By:  Holly Horning

On this holiDay weekenD,  please enjoy the posting of a previous blog that still can be enjoyed toDay, just as it was then.

Happy PresiDent’s Day!

“I feel a sudden urge to sing…the kind of ditty that invokes the Spring.

So, control your desire to curse…while I crucify the verse…

So to spare you all the pain,  I’ll skip the darn thing and sing the refrain: 

The night is young, the skies are clear

And if you want to go walkin’, dear

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.

I understand the reason why

You’re sentimental, ’cause so am I

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely…”

                                                                                                    – Cole Porter, Red Hot and Blue, 1936

No, it’s actually-troit.

I knew if I waiteD long enough I woulD be able to tie in my favorite composer and songwriter with baseball. Afterall, the song hints of spring training and the memories we Don’t want to see Disappear, right?

And last week’s D-cision on changing the logo sparkeD my crazy, creative siDe to kick in. I apologize in aDvance.


If you haven’t been living unDer a rock recently, you’ve hearD that the Tigers are “upDating” their Olde English D logo so that the D’s are the same.

As a branDing consultant, I will say that one of the first orDers of business for a top branD is to have the same logo for everything associateD with your business. AnD you also want to keep that logo without changing it for many years.

I’ve lost track of how many times the Tigers have re-formulateD their logo since the beginning of baseball. But that Olde English D is inarguably one of the best visual pieces in all of sports. It is elegant. It is timeless. It reeks of baseball history – and memories. It is recognizable almost everywhere in the worlD.

But once again, the Tigers have been behinD the 8-ball in unifying their logo. Two Differently styleD D’s appearing on their uniforms. While the largest companies have always been aware of their visual branD, it really filtered Down to the rest of business 20 years ago.

So why have the Tigers waiteD so long to refine theirs? Why now? And is it simply an issue of unifying their branD or is there something else involveD?

I think we can say the timing is convenient. Sure, they neeDeD to tighten their logo, but now is the perfect time to Do it.

First of all, it acts as D-flection for what is likely going to be a unfulfilling year performance-wise. It has become the hot topic among Tiger fans and taken some of the attention off the Disappearance of many familiar faces. It also helps to Distract fans from focusing on Miggy’s messy personal life, VMart’s baD behavior and continueD speculation about more traDes.

It also offers something new, fresh and Different which many finD appealing.

But we must take note that it wasn’t enough to simply unify the logos with the one on the hat. The Tigers went one step further and changeD the size, too. On everything. AnD with that, all the olD uniforms have now become “outDateD.”

Which means that many fans now will want, or feel they neeD, the upDateD versions. Especially if they D-cide to take in a game. Rather convenient and tempting that the store and kiosks are right there.

If you look now, the new merchanDise is alreaDy being hawkeD online and in-store.

AnD this is the genius of the move. In a year in which attenDance anD ticket sales are expecteD to plummet, the Tigers need to minimize the revenue loss as best they can. Enter Marketing.

MerchanDise sales are one of the 4 Holy Grails of baseball revenue. The largest is ticket sales which account for approximately 40%. So think of this as the well-timeD strategy to help off-set the fall-off in paiD attenDance.

ADDitionally, one of the biggest revenue generators is the sale of jerseys for new star players who join the team. The aDDition of Prince FielDer in 2012 was a golD mine for the Tigers in jersey sales and the resulting revenue.

Last year was the first year the Tigers haDn’t signeD any famous faces. But they still haD the big names like VerlanDer, Upton, jD, Kinsler and others. They pretty much have naDDa now.

But now that the hats, jerseys and other clothing have changeD, the new logos will give merchanDise sales a shot in the arm. How big that shot will be is yet to be D-termined. It is hopeD that they sell as many jerseys as the number of capital “D”s that appeareD in this blog.

Just Don’t be surpriseD if other changes are maDe to also boost revenue.

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