Detroit Tigers “Firing” of Dave Dombrowski Not a Surprise


The Detroit Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch understands that his baseball team, like all of his enterprises, is a business.  There’s a delicate combination of making a profit in baseball and being successful.  For Ilitch, he has defined success at winning a World Series.  Dave Dombrowski was unsuccessful in the eyes of Mike Ilitch.  Unsuccessful executives are moved out of businesses every day.  Yesterday was Dombrowski’s turn.

“I would like to thank Dave Dombrowski for his 14 years of service,” Ilitch said in the statement. “Together we’ve enjoyed some success, but we’re still in aggressive pursuit of our ultimate goal: to bring a World Series title to Detroit and Michigan. I’ve decided to release Dave from his contract in order to afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities. I feel this is the right time for the Tigers to move forward under new leadership.”

This was not an overnight decision by any means.  Rest assured the Ilitch family had been watching the Tigers like they watch all their businesses.  They, too, were disappointed in the grand disappointment of 2014; the should’ve and would’ve season of 2013; the fart in the World Series in 2012; and the the inability to get to the World Series in 2011.  But this year they doubled down and the team couldn’t get it done.  When the team can’t get it done, it’s the person in charge that gets walked out the door.

Dombrowski’s “firing” is really a non renewal of his contract treating a great baseball executive and leader with the respect that he deserves.  It allows him to get a jump on finding his next job before others are in the mix.  It’s a truly classy move by the Ilitch family to provide him with his next great opportunity.

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Dombrowski assembled some of the greatest Tiger teams that many of us have seen in our lifetimes.  The 2012-2014 teams were stacked with hitters and starting pitching.  Miguel CabreraJustin VerlanderMax Scherzer. Ian KinslerPrince FielderAnibal SanchezVictor Martinez.  Foundations and cornerstones of championships that never materialized.

In 2002 the Tigers hired the upstart Dombrowski in 2002 after he assembled a World Championship in Florida with the Marlins.  After suffering through the 119 loss season in 2003, Dombrowski brought the cornerstones of that Florida team to Detroit in Jim Leyland and Miguel Cabrera.  After going 71-91 in 2005, the young Tigers surprised many by making it to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals to lose.  Dombrowski was a hero and savior with only great things to come on the horizon.

Dombrowski was a jedi at keeping a great atmosphere in the clubhouse.  Dombrowksi proved to be a master at assembling the parts.  He brought veteran Torii Hunter in to provide veteran leadership and experience.  When the clubhouse was in an uproar over an alleged affair that Avisail Garcia was having with Prince Fielder‘s wife, he moved Garcia to Chicago and then later moved Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler.

Some will argue that he left the cupboards bare in his great pursuit.  I’d ask those to point to how many successful teams have both four division titles in a row, multiple trips to league championships and World Series with a farm system intact.

But, ultimately Dombrowski never stood on the grand stage and he never delivered the World Series trophy to Detroit.  A town, a team and an owner starving for their first championship in 31 years.  A baseball town rich in history, deep in tradition and used to winning.  At the end of the day, Dombrowski didn’t deliver. He failed to put together a bullpen to pull it together for nearly three years straight and he failed to assemble the parts in a machine that delivered trophies.

The Ilitch family was watching the same Tiger team that was average at best this year and after last year they most likely put Dombrowski on alert that he had to win this year to come back.  While the recent arguments and conversations in the media about buying and selling were intense, can you imagine how tense they were within the Tigers organization? We scratched our heads when Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander were rushed back from injuries, but the desperation to win from all parties within the Tigers’ organization in 2015 is obvious now .

Dombrowski, undoubtedly, loved his job, the family, the town, the team, the fans and wanted to win just like we did.  Deep inside he had to have known this team in 2015 didn’t have it.  When he signed those deals last week, he knew this day was coming.

I am shocked that the fans and the media didn’t see this coming.  It happens all the time and it happens to a lot of us in the business world.  I know first hand.  While I emphasize with Dombrowski, he’s one of the most talented executives in baseball and will land somewhere doing great things for a great team.

Expecting the same result in business for doing the same things over and over is often the definition of insanity.  Dombrowski had the keys to the castle for a long time and he just ran out of time and magic.  It was time for a change.

But Al Avila?  Well that’s another topic for another day….

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