Tigers Top Ten Disappointments: #1 Randy Smith/Juan Gonzalez

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Once in a while during a slow off-season, as a writer you have to look around for some inspiration. I was doing so one day last week, when I came across a top 10 bum list from one of Fansided’s other baseball sites, Lasorda’s Lair. I thought, that is a pretty good idea, and at least could be some fun for me anyway. So a big nod to them for the idea, and please check out their list as well.

My list of Tigers bums doesn’t go back too far in history. Approximately the past 30 years or so, and while I am sure that there is going to be some dispute about the list (hint: Jason Grilli is not on it), I wanted to let you know what I was thinking before I start this list. Essentially, it’s about performance, or lack of it, coupled with the expectation that the player would perform. A player’s draft status, and/or who they were traded for played a role in deciding who was on this list. As well as what they have/had done the rest of their careers.

Without further delay, I give you the biggest Tigers disappointment on my list, Randy Smith, who of course brought us Juan Gonzalez, amongst a lot of other disappointment.

In 1996, a proud franchise in the Tigers began taking a turn for the worse. For a team that was already on somewhat of a downward spiral, the Tigers turned to then 33 year old Randy Smith to take over the reigns as GM. The reign of terror that was unleashed by Randy Smith on Tigers fans lasted until 2002, when current GM David Dombrowski took over and began resuscitating the franchise back to winning. And it wasn’t easy. After all, the 2003 team that Dombrowski started with, lost 119 games, and that can almost be entirely attributed to what Randy Smith left in the cupboard. Essentially nothing.

Smith’s career record as Tigers GM was downright atrocious. It’s the type of thing we see at the bottom of septic tanks, and that might be kind. The Tigers won 466 games in Smith’s tenure, and lost a whopping 666 games. Not an unfitting number for Smith. Not because he is the devil, or some sort of demon’s spawn, but he may have brought that guy to town in Juan Gonzalez.

Smith is known most in Detroit for the guy that lost a lot of games, drafted poorly, and had an obsessions with trading with 2 franchises in particular, the San Diego Padres, and the Houston Astros. But what Smith may have done the worst is bringing OF Juan Gonzalez to town. A move that many Detroit fans will never forget, and obviously not for good reasons.

Desperately looking for a superstar to bring to Detroit to coincide with their new ballpark, Smith made a monstrous deal with someone other than his dad’s franchise for a change. He sent 6 players to the Rangers for Juan Gonzalez, Danny Patterson, and Greg Zaun. Among the six players that went to the Rangers were Francisco Cordero, Frank Catalanatto, and Gabe Kapler. All in all, it looked like a trade that could wind up in the Tigers favor. The problem was, Juan Gonzalez didn’t want to play here, and he let it be known.

I am sure that some of you have noticed that I have switched the title of these pieces from “bums” to disappointments. That was part of a concern over calling people bums that didn’t necessarily deserve the moniker. After all, is Seth Greisinger really a bum? Nope, by all accounts, he is a fine human being. So I acquiesced to the powers that be, and probably what is right. But, in this case, I have to call it like it is. For one year with the Detroit Tigers, Juan Gonzalez was a bum.

Gonzalez did nothing but complain from the get go. He complained about the city. He complained about the park. He complained about the weather. If there was something that he didn’t complain about, I am not sure what it is. Gonzalez was essentially acting as a 4 year old trapped in a prototypical major league players body, and he didn’t endear himself to some of the greatest fans in all of baseball. What Gonzalez really missed out on, is that Tigers fans would have embraced him if he just shut his trap and played baseball. This town reveres its superstars, and is very forgiving when someone is capable of putting up monster numbers like Gonzalez was. Gonzalez lived up to his word, playing often times half-arsed in Detroit and bolted for Cleveland the following season.

The thing was, Gonzalez’ numbers weren’t that bad for most players. In fact, they were good. He hit .289 for the Tigers, and had an OPS of .842. I would take that from Delmon Young if we could get them in 2012 in a heartbeat. These numbers of course were down quite a bit from his career norms, lending to the disappointment of Tigers fans. Over his career he hit .295 for his career and had a .904 OPS. It was his effort, attitude, and lackadaisical overall play that disgusted Detroit fans. Enough about Gonzalez though, my blood pressure shouldn’t suffer the rise, this is more about the guy that acquired him.

I guess I can’t fault Randy Smith for acquiring him, however, I do fault him for not doing his due diligence and finding out if he was going to stick around for more than one season. I think the answer would’ve clearly been no if he had done so. I will concede that every GM makes good and bad trades, just this one brought us a miserable guy who clearly hated Detroit. We don’t take that too kindly here. And why should we? We didn’t do anything to Gonzalez.

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Topics: C.J. Nitkowski, Detroit Tigers, Eric Munson, Greg Gohr, Jeff Weaver, Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Baugh, Matt Anderson, Matt Wheatland, Randy Smith

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  • timoteus

    Oh my Lord. I couldn’t agree with you more. Worst thing that ever happened to the Tigers’ franchise was Randy Smith. I did myself a bit of a “happy dance” the day he left. I don’t wish ill toward anybody, but man, that dude set us back for a LONG time. 2003 is not on Dombrowski, that’s Smith’s legacy. Dombrowski started with a cupboard that was beyond bare, both at the major and minor levels. Personally, I thing he has done a stellar job of rebuilding the franchise. Perfect? Of course not. But he’s done a damn fine job, in my opinion.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @timoteus Dombrowski has done a good job of managing his assets the last couple of years, that is for sure. Had me worried after 2006 for a couple of years though.

  • jaymay

    Thankfully Juan didn’t sign the long term contract they offered him. That was the best thing he did for Detroit. We would have been crippled even more if he had.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @jaymay true, though he did have a fantastic year in Cleveland the year after. Soon after that though he began a decline.

  • ChrisHannum

    There are so many Smith-Era Tigers failures, flops and false hopes that you didn’t even get around to mentioning… What about Brian Hunter? Mike Drumright? Bip Roberts? Justin Thompson? And the list goes on.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @ChrisHannum yeah, I didn’t want to get into a 4000 word post. There was so many things wrong, and so little right.

  • jgorosh
  • timoteus

    @MCBjohnverburg John, have really enjoyed your posts lately (I am a newcomer to this site). Yeah, Juan was one of the worst moves (outside of Jair for Renteria) that I can remember. We gave up quite a bit and got virtually nothing in return. Thank you, Mr. Smith ….

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @timoteus@MCBjohnverburg Thanks a lot. Appreciate you stopping by and more importantly commenting. Tell all your Tiger friends, or baseball friends in general.

  • formatallan

    Great Job on this list John. very good Bum list, or dissapointment list, or whatever were calling it now.

    LasordasLair is proud!