Looking Back at the 2003 Detroit Tigers (37-105)


An empty Comerica Park was par for the course in 2003. Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Sept. 1 to 7 (Weekly Record 3-4, Season Record 37-105)

A week ago in 2003, the Detroit Tigers tried to avoid becoming just the second team to lose 100 games before August, but fell two days short. With a week of painful history in the books, the team moved on with their season.

Entering September with 101 losses, Detroit had a new goal in mind: avoiding becoming the worst team in the modern era of baseball. The Tigers had played .252 baseball for the first five months of the season, and if they continued on that clip with 27 games to play they’d finish 41-121. The expansion New York Mets lost 120 games in 1962, the mark they were looking to avoid.

This pace got off to a rough start as they dropped a 7-4 decision to the Cleveland Indians at home on Sept. 1, but the Tigers caught fire, taking the last three games from the Tribe. It was the first time since July 8 to 10 that Detroit won three straight games, and it also marked the first time that the Tigers had more home wins than road wins (19 home wins, 18 road wins) since April.

Once a place of refuge from the sparse crowds of booing fans, Detroit began to play better at home than on the road, which was seen when their three-game winning streak was immediately snapped in Toronto in the form of a three-game sweep.

Painful Game of the Week–Sept. 5: Tigers at Blue Jays

All of the games against Toronto on this week in 2003 were painful. There was the Saturday afternoon game when Roy Halladay took a no-hitter into the eighth (the second time in his career he nearly threw a no-hitter against the Tigers–he was one out away in 1998 before a Bobby Higginson solo shot ruined the bid), and went 10 innings in a complete game 1-0 victory. There was also the complete whitewash series finale, 8-0. But the season opener was easily the most painful for a couple of reasons.

First, it snapped a long (for the 2003 Tigers) losing streak, but more notably–it was Mike Maroth‘s 20th loss-officially becoming the first pitcher to lose 20 games since 1980 (Brian Kingman). The Tigers tried to give Maroth a cushion before he even took the mound, scoring two runs in the first, and three runs in the third after he allowed two in the second to tie. But Toronto would add two in the third and four in the fourth and coast to an 8-6 victory.

For the second straight week, the Tigers made dubious history.

Lousy Player of the Week: Mike Maroth

Former Tigers’ Pitcher Mike Maroth / Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Mike Maroth was one of those guys you just had to root for. He began the year 0-9 in 10 outings, and did not notch his first 2003 win until May 23. Mike finished the year with 21 losses and was nearly joined by rookie Jeremy Bonderman, but Tigers’ brass shut him down with 19 losses. That Maroth went out there and took his lumps every game seemed to endear him to Tigers’ faithful.

Maroth was acquired by Detroit in a trade with Boston for Bryce Florie. Drafted in 1998, he was a minor leaguer at the time of the trade and worked his way up to make a very successful major league debut on June 8, 2002–a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Comerica Park. Maroth allowed no runs on seven hits in seven innings of work in his debut and finished that season at 6-10 with a 4.48 ERA.

Mike had stretches where it looked like he could be a solid major league pitcher, however his lowest season ERA was 4.19 in an injury-shortened 2006 season. In fact, Maroth was a major catalyst in the early part of that pennant winning season, starting the year with three consecutive wins and a 5-2 record before missing June through August with bone chips in his left elbow. Late in the season he appeared in relief four times, posting a 9.53 ERA in just under 6 innings of work, allowing three homers. He was left off the postseason roster, and began the 2007 season in Detroit’s rotation before being traded to the Cardinals in June.

He was not successful in St. Louis, was released following the season, and bounced around the minors a bit before retiring in Jan. 2011. Maroth now has the indignity of being the only player since 1981 to have 20 losses, a distinction that will likely stand for a long time.

There is a silver lining. Mike is back in the Tigers’ organization as the pitching coach of the Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers.