April 21, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Brandon Inge (15) makes a throw against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back At The 2003 Detroit Tigers (38-117)

Comerica Park was a lonely, hostile place for the Tigers in 2003. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Comerica Park was a lonely, hostile place for the Tigers in 2003. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sept. 15 to 21 (Weekly Record 0-7, Season Record 38-117)

The Detroit Tigers had been historically bad throughout the 2003 season, but in the second-to-last week, they seemed beyond redemption. The good news was the season was nearly over. A season that had started 1-17, was seemingly ending the same way. Most fans, players, and everyone associated with the Detroit Tigers probably wished there was a Little League-style mercy rule in place–but instead of ending a 10-run game, Detroit got to end its season early.

The Tigers ended their four-game series with Kansas City with a loss on Monday and then welcomed the Toronto Blue Jays in for a three-game sweep. It was then on to the final road trip of the season. The Metrodome was the first stop, to face the soon-to-be Central Division champion Minnesota Twins.

In the seven games this week in 2003, all losses of course, the closest margin of defeat for Detroit was two runs. They were outscored 54 to 25, not allowing fewer than six runs in any game.

Painful Game of the Week–Sept. 21: Tigers at Twins

The Tigers struck first in this contest when Alex Sanchez brought home Brandon Inge on a sac fly in the third. Undeterred, the Twins put up four runs in that inning to quash any hopes Detroit had at snapping its long losing streak. Minnesota added a couple more to make the score 6-1, and while the Tigers added a pair in the eighth and one in the ninth, they’d fall short.

The loss clinched their ninth straight defeat, and ran their record in September to 4-16, and 1-15 since winning three straight from Sept. 2 to 4. Detroit would have to go at least 4-3 in the season’s final week to avoid becoming the worst team in baseball history, and 5-2 if they wanted to avoid tying the 1962 New York Mets for the worst loss mark of 120.

It was a tall order for this team. It’s worth nothing, with this win, Minnesota trimmed its Magic Number to clinch the division to two. Making it almost a certainty that they’d clinch by the time they played the Tigers in Comerica Park to round out the regular season. Would they be resting starters? Would that help the Tigers? It didn’t seem to matter who teams trotted out there, the Tigers would always lose.

Final: Minnesota 6, Detroit 4

Lousy Player of the Week: Brandon Inge

Though we’ll run a column next week, wrapping up the 2003 dumpster fire–this will be the final running of “Lousy Player of the Week.” So naturally I saved the “best” for last–Charles Brandon Inge.

Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, my saying Inge was the “best” for last, might make you think he is the best “lousy” player (worst player) or the best player to be featured. I won’t wade into these debates, but Brandon is a fascinating character and one that fans still love to bring up, even though he is out of baseball and gone from the Tigers for nearly two entire baseball seasons.

A relief pitcher and shortstop at Virginia Commonwealth University, Brandon was selected in the second round of the 1998 draft, and made his debut on Opening Day 2001 as a catcher. He would remain a light hitting backstop for Detroit through the 2003 season, never posting higher than a .203 average.

The offseason following the 2003 debacle saw Dave Dombrowski begin to rebuild the team from the ashes. He started by signing some veterans such as Rondell White and Fernando Vina, but the main focus of that off-season was to lure Ivan Rodriguez to sign with Detroit. Pudge had just won a World Series with the Florida Marlins, and as the Marlins always do–they were dropping payroll and chose not to resign him. He took his time but eventually decided to pick the Tigers in mid-January.

Weeks before this, a defiant Inge told fans and media at the annual Tigerfest that he didn’t want Pudge to come and he felt he was the answer at catcher. This may have been the moment when the Inge polarization began. Brandon eventually accepted his fate and moved to third base, a move that may have actually rejuvenated his stalled career.

Not known for being a very good catcher, Inge had natural ability at third (perhaps from his roots at short).  His bat also came around, hitting nearly 100 points higher than his career average in 2004 (.287). His power numbers began climbing, twice hitting 27 homers (2006, 2009), and was named the final player for the 2009 All-Star team, setting a then-record for votes–11.8 million.

Inge’s average dipped to .179 in 2011 and he was sent to Toledo, but returned on Aug. 20 to hit a homer in his first at-bat. The following season, when the Tigers added Prince Fielder and shifted Miguel Cabrera back to third, it was clear Inge’s days were numbered. He was released on April 26, 2012.

He signed with the dismal Oakland Athletics shortly after his release and played well, even hitting a grand slam against his former team. Injuries hampered Inge and he wasn’t on the playoff roster when the Tigers and A’s met in the ALDS, however many of the players on that team give Inge credit with helping to turn a fledgling team in April into a division winner in September.

Inge found his way to Pittsburgh in the offseason and started the year in AAA, but was on the Pirates from April 23 until his release in July. He signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays in August, but was released a week later.

It certainly looks like Brandon Inge’s career is over. If it is, he’ll finish with a .233 average with 152 homers, 648 RBIs and 1,166 hits.

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