Thanks, Mr. Ilitch. All I ever asked for as a Tigers’ fan growing up was to start the season with hope and for the Tigers to play relevant games into September. While this season might not quite be going – thus far – like most Tigers fans expected, the Tigers are still in contention and look likely to be playing relevant games for a while yet to come. For all of you who are consistently down on these second place kitties, I’d just like to take a few minutes to remind you where we’ve come from.
While I’m told I was following games when the Tigers roared in ’84, I was awfully small. The earliest season that I can actually remember was ’87 – the season that the Tigers looked to be the team to beat but crumbled in the ALCS (and flipped John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander in the process). After that season the Tigers lost Kirk Gibson and – as you might recall – failed to make the playoffs even once before that World Series run in 2006. They certainly came close in 1988, though, falling a single game behind Boston with 88 wins. I was 8. But the average Tigers hitter in 1988 was over 32 and the average pitcher was over 31 and in 1989 they stunk. Really stunk… 103 losses stunk, and when September 1st rolled around they were 26 games out of first.
Luckily the next four years weren’t all that bad, but they weren’t good either. 79 wins in 1990, and 11 1/2 back on September first. What happened to those exciting pennant races, I wondered? Couldn’t we have some more of those? In 1991 the Tigers (sort of) obliged with 84 wins. That’s not all – they were leading the division as late as August 26! Cecil Fielder hit 44 home runs! Bill Gullickson (somehow) won 20 games! Sure, the wheels came off in September – but baseball was exciting again. In ’92 Alan Trammell only played in 29 games and the Tigers never sniffed .500, but in ’93 they won 85 and started September 7 back of the Yankees. Almost exciting, right? And we had a lot of stars (even if they were old ones). Then in ’94 we had the strike and in ’95 the swan song for Sparky Anderson, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson. In 96 we waved goodbye to Alan Trammell and Cecil Fielder and said hello to “rebuilding”
Prior to 2006 the Tigers hadn’t finished over .500 since that Almost Exciting season. Rebuilding v.1.0 (Randy Smith) crashed and burned as the Tigers peaked at 79 wins in 2000 – never led their division (aside from early season ties) once before stripping down in 2002 and bottoming out as a 119 loss laughing stock in 2003. The Tigers continued to struggle in 2004 and 2005 (though far from laughingstocks) but… Rebuilding v.2.0 (Dave Dombrowski) has gotten us where we are today: A World Series appearance in 2006. 88 wins in 2007, a half game up in the division on August 16 and only 5.5 back on September 1st. That memorable failure in 2008 certainly gave us hope in April and trailed by only 5 on July 31st – but they never pulled together for the run we all expected they had in them. The 2009 team that lost the division lead on the last day of the season and lost the play-in game on a blown hit-batter call. The 2010 team didn’t finish strong, but was 11 games over and tied for the AL Central lead on July 10. I was never really spoiled by a successful team, and I doubt many other Tigers fans have been either, so in 2008 and 2010 what I was really hoping for was a good stretch in the middle of the season to let me hope that Detroit might get hot and rocket up to snag a Wild Card spot from 5 or 6 back on Labor Day. Last season’s waltz to the playoffs was just gravy – and frankly less exciting (prior to the actual playoffs themselves).
As I write this it’s August 17 – the Tigers beat a team that pitched around Miguel Cabrera to get to Prince Fielder 5-3 while fans kept watching the score from Kansas City where the White Sox lost 4-2. Now the Tigers sit 1.5 back of Chicago for the AL Central and tied with Baltimore for the final Wild Card spot. It’s exciting again – edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting baseball. Enjoy this, Tigers fans. Relish it, don’t grumble and groan about that ridiculous Brennan Boesch or Anibal Sanchez‘ inability to get the DH out. This is the good stuff – you never know if the next season will see us 10 out at the break and dealing.