Each week of this season, we will look at each painful week of that season, a game during that week that was especially painful, and a colorful name on that roster that was painful for everyone see wearing the Olde English D.
Apparently, we here at Motor City Bengals love to inflict pain.
2003 Detroit Tigers–March 31 through April 6: 0-6
In the year 2003, Major League Baseball started its regular season in March for the first time ever. Despite the 42-degree day, the sold-out Opening Day crowd was festive and hopeful. Many were anxious to see franchise hero Alan Trammell take the reins as manager, along with 1984 legends Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish on his coaching staff. Certainly the trio could do no worse than Phil Garner and his early season successor, Luis Pujols, who lost 106 games in 2002. Could they?
It was a new age for the Tigers, and its ballpark–entering its fourth year. After much criticism, the team finally decided to move Comerica Park’s cavernous left field fence from 395 to 370 feet. The move made sense from a baseball prospective, but it wasn’t until before the 2005 season that the bullpens moved from right to left field, leaving an empty void out there in 2003 and 2004.
The vast emptiness in left field was perhaps prophetic for the coming season–and Opening Day failure.
Painful Game of the Week: March 31: Twins at Tigers (Opening Day)
The defending AL Central Champion Minnesota Twins were on the schedule as the Tigers opened at home in chilly conditions. This game was frustrating on so many levels.
First off, the Tigers actually pitched very well. Future 21-game loser Mike Maroth got the nod, and pitched a solid seven innings of five-hit, two-run ball. Those two runs came in the second inning when Dustan Mohr hit a homer that went over–you guessed it, the new left field wall.
Dean Palmer manufactured a run with an infield single that scored Omar Infante in the seventh inning, but that’s all she wrote for the scoring. To add insult to injury, a pre-Chicago White Sox (and not yet hated in Detroit) A.J. Pierzynski slapped a solo shot off Jamie Walker in the eighth, immediately returning the deficit to two runs.
Final: Minnesota 3, Detroit 1.
Trammell was prepared to keep the lineup card from his first game as manager, but decided against it.
“I’m going to keep it when we win,” Tram said. “I hope I forget about this one real quick.”
Turned out he’d have to wait nearly two weeks for that lineup card, and Opening Day actually proved to best game of the week for the team. With losses in all six games that week, the Tigers were outscored 36-6 (including two shutouts).
(Lousy) Player of the Week
The best Detroit Tiger on that 2003 team was likely Bobby Higginson. In the dark days of 1989 to 2005, he was not a terrible player, but because the franchise was in such disarray, it meant he was a great player by Detroit standards.
Higginson started his career with the Tigers in 1995, and became a rising star when he hit .320 with 26 homers in 1996. His best all-around season may have come in 2000, while hitting behind Juan Gonzalez, posting a .300 average with 30 homers and 102 RBIs. His production dipped greatly when Juan-Gone got gone, bottoming out with a .235 average, 14 homers and 52 RBIs in 2003.
Three years later, when the Tigers recaptured the glory of the franchise, their biggest star of the dark era was nowhere to be found, completely out of baseball.
Bobby never played on a winning team in his 11 seasons in professional baseball.