The 2003 Detroit Tigers, the team that quite possibly turned around the fortunes of the franchise, played the final week of May and headed into June. Though there is no place like home, the Tigers in 2003 would have rather been any place but home.
May 26 to June 1 (Weekly record 2-4)(Season record 14-40)
After a respectable (for this team) 3-4 road trip, the Tigers returned home to face the Indians and Yankees. After winning just three of 22 games at Comerica Park in 2003, not much was expected, and they did not defy those expectations.
A win on Memorial Day 2003, gave the Tigers four wins in their last five outings, but they got back to their losing ways by dropping the final two to Cleveland and the first contest to New York. They bounced back and took Game 2 of the Yankees series 4-2, defeating former teammate Jeff Weaver for the first time. Finally, a marathon 17-inning contest saw the Tigers drop another series and notch an embarrassing 40th loss on June 1.
(Painful) Game of the Week: June 1-Yankees at Tigers
Even in the lean years, the Tigers have always drawn well at Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park when the Yankees were in town. This was not the case in 2003 as the first two games against New York saw crowds of 28,003 and 24,959 respectively, but the series finale saw a sell-out for the first time since Opening Day. A terrific show of solidarity by the fans? Not so much. That Sunday afternoon game featured a chance for Roger Clemens to earn the 300th win of his career. In the pre-steroid allegation era for Clemens, any baseball fan would want to see that. “The Rocket” astonishingly enough could not hold a 7-1 lead against the suddenly powerful Tigers and left the game after giving up six runs (four earned) over six innings.
Leave it to the Tigers to spoil something good for their fans, however give them credit, they never backed down in this game and perhaps fed upon the large home crowd. The Yankees scored three runs in the third and two in the fifth to grab that six-run lead, but the Tigers responded with five runs in the fifth off Clemens. Todd Zeile seemingly broke Detroit’s backs with a homer in the following inning to grab an 8-6 lead, but the Tigers tied it at eight in the seventh–where it would stay for the next 10 innings.
Last week’s featured player, Steve Sparks, allowed two solo home runs from Alfonso Soriano and Jorge Posada in the 17th. The Tigers mounted one last rally when Eric Munson drilled a double and scored Bobby Higginson to pull within one, but that’s how it would stay.
Final: New York 8, Detroit 7 (17 inn.)
(Lousy) Player of the Week: Eric Munson
If you were a Tigers’ fan in the early 2000’s, one name that was often batted around as “can’t miss” was Eric Munson. The third overall pick of the 1999 draft (behind Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett), Munson had actually been drafted three years earlier by the Atlanta Braves but chose to play ball at USC instead. There he excelled, being named Freshman All-American. So when the Tigers drafted him they gave him some incentive to sign on the dotted line in the form of a $3.5 million signing bonus, a team record which was later matched by Rick Porcello in 2007.
Munson had been a catcher during his high school and college career but Detroit decided to convert him to first base. He had terrific power numbers in the minor leagues, and was named the Tigers’ minor leaguer of 2002. He started making sporadic visits to the majors in 2000, often playing third base, but it wasn’t until the ill-fated 2003 season when he spent the most time in Detroit, posting an average of .240 with 18 home runs and 50 RBIs in 99 games.
In 2004, Munson played in the most games of his career, but a troubling trend was emerging. While he could launch some of the longest homers you’ll ever see (such as when he hit the centerfield camera at COPA, an estimated 457 feet), his power was sporadic and average was poor (.212).
Following the season, Munson’s infield positions were filled with Dmitri Young at first and Brandon Inge at third, so he was granted free agency, and became just another Randy Smith draft pick bust. He played for Tampa Bay in 2005, Houston in 2006, and had one at-bat with Oakland in 2009, his final visit to the majors.
He finished with a career average of .214, with 49 homers.