“I cannot get rid of the hurt from losing, but after the last out of every loss, I must accept that there will be a tomorrow. In fact, it’s more than there’ll be a tomorrow, it’s that I want there to be a tomorrow. That’s the big difference, I want tomorrow to come.” – Sparky Anderson
Say what you will about Sparky Anderson, the last manager to bring the Detroit Tigers a World Series Championship, but don’t doubt his ability to rattle off a great, thought provoking quote. While a lot has changed since the Tigers won in 1984, and more since Sparky retired eleven years later, simple truths exist in the game of baseball. Sparky had a knack for hitting the nail on the head, even in the context of the changed game today.
“If you have to choose between power and speed and it often turns out you have to make that choice, you’ve got to go for speed.”
Call it small ball if you want, but in the young season the 2014 Tigers have proven that speed can equal runs. And it’s not just the upgrade in physical speed the Tigers received when adding Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler to the line up, it’s the entire concept and focus on the bases that has shown us a culture change. Victor Martinez, arguably the team’s slowest runner, has a stolen base this season. So it’s not just faster bodies, it’s inherent in the thinking of the team now. Speed isn’t just physical, it’s focus and attention making smart choices. Being a fast runner helps, but speed on the base paths is a mental game too, one that the Tigers’ have begun perfecting, and one that could make a huge difference once the team settles into the grind of the season.
“He wants to do so good so bad.”
Such a simple, obvious statement, but one that fans sometimes need to be reminded of. It is very easy for fans and writers and all people who observe a baseball team from the outside to condemn a player when things are not going his way. “He’s a bum.” “He’s lazy.” “He doesn’t care. ” “He’s not even trying.” Most of us are guilty of uttering one or more of these phrases at one point in time or another. And, in very few circumstances, they may be right. But for the most part, these men that we’re watching play baseball 162 games a year are grown adults who have worked their collective behind’s off to get where they are, and they realize that it won’t last forever. The idea that an athlete who has made it to the highest level of a professional sport doesn’t actually want to succeed is quite silly, when you really think about it. Sparky was right in reminding us then that as frustrating as it is for us to watch a player struggle, the struggling player is far more frustrated. Professional athletes are competitive; it’s in their nature or they wouldn’t have made it to the big stage, regardless of their talent level. Of course they want to succeed, if for no reason other than to pacify their own ego. So try to remember Sparky the next time Alex Avila or Austin Jackson or Miguel Cabrera strikes out with two on and two out when the Tigers are down by one in the eighth. Alex or Austin or Miggy wishes he hit a home run more than you wish he did.
The season is young; younger for the Tigers than any other team after a mix of poor scheduling and uncooperative weather. Sparky used to refuse to talk about the talent level of his team as a whole until they had played 40 games, and the Tigers aren’t even close to that yet. So I’ll hold my judgment off a little longer. I’ll keep optimistic that the bullpen will improve as they fall into the rhythm of the season and get comfortable in their roles, that the bats that need to be hot will heat up and stay hot, that the starting rotation will start pitching to their potential. And I’ll hope that once we hit game 40, the 2014 Tigers more closely resemble the 1984 World Series Champion squad than the 84 loss team Sparky managed in his final season. And I think they will. Fingers crossed.