Detroit Tigers: Dave Dombrowski turned around franchise despite lacking ultimate prize


In the 1994 movie, “Angels in the Outfield,” (a remake of the 1951 film by the same title) angels use their skills to help a lousy team get close to an elusive championship. One angel tells a young fan, who knows about the unearthly assistance, that the angels would not be helping the team win anymore because “championships have to be won on their own.”

While he is no angel, Dave Dombrowski used his powers to help a lousy team get close to an elusive championship on numerous occasions, but the team fell short each time.

You know by now that the Detroit Tigers and Dave Dombrowski severed ties to one another a couple days ago. Call it a “firing,” call it a “release,” whatever. The main point is that Dave Dombrowski does not work here anymore.

Yet, inexplicably, there were actually Tigers’ fans happy he was gone and were giving DD the proverbial “don’t let the door hit you where the Lord split you” treatment.

Deadline Detroit had a great article in the hours after the shocking separation showing reaction across the Twitterverse. Many were positive toward Dombrowski and grateful for a job well done, yet others were pretty gleeful about his removal. (Cue the always original “Dumbrowski” comments)

On a sidenote, this one might have been my favorite:

Um, yeah because what poor managerial decision did Jim Leyland make while Brad Ausmus was managing the club? Okay then….

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It seems that the fans the most, I guess, gleeful about Dombrowski’s departure are what I like to call the “post-2006” fans. The ones who didn’t know the Tigers weren’t playing in Tiger Stadium anymore and wouldn’t have recognized Magglio Ordonez in a group of two before the playoff run of ’06. Yet those fans adopted or re-adopted this team because of what Dombrowski brought to this team after so many dark days/years/decades.

Dombrowski was brought in to save the franchise by owner Mike Ilitch, nearing the 10-year mark of owning the baseball club. In those years, from 1993 to 2001 (he actually bought them in August 1992), Mr. I’s team had just one winning season, his first full year of ownership in ’93.

He promptly fired Randy Smith, who was so inept that it made the Matt Millen Detroit Lions-era look astute by comparison, and took over the reigns of the franchise six games into 2002.

Sure there were several dark days ahead, especially with the 119-loss year of 2003, but from Day 1, Dombrowski had a plan to remake this team with astute trades and key free agent signings. This mindset really started with the Ivan Rodriguez signing and the trade for Carlos Guillen before the 2004 season. This was the plan that helped the Tigers come out of nowhere to clinch the AL pennant in ’06.

Two years later, the Tigers pulled off the heist of the century as Dombrowski stole Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins for Andrew Miller (a decent big leaguer now, but no sure-fire Hall-of-Famer like Miggy) and a bunch of nobodies.

People forget about these great free agent signings and the trades for Miggy, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and others when they constantly hold on to the bitter feelings over seeing Doug Fister (and his 4.60 2015 ERA) being sent away.

There were missteps along the way. Hiring Alan Trammell and Brad Ausmus as rookie managers (although you have to think Tram was an ownership demand to drive some attention to the team), trading for an aging Gary Sheffield, and yes even trading away Fister–but the great and good deals greatly outweighed the bad or questionable moves.

I would also quantify Dombrowski’s assembly of the last two teams, particularly 2015 as a mistake. They very much missed the mark on their starting pitchers and they never addressed the bullpen issues from the last few years.

Was it a mistake to fire him? I think it was partially because DD is so well-respected as being one of the best GM’s in the game and also because ownership felt that Dombrowski’s lieutenants, led by former assistant and now new GM Al Avila, could continue to do the job.

If you plan on “going in another direction,” shouldn’t that be a clean break? And that is no knock on Avila, who is well-respected himself and will likely do a good job in his own right. But is it another direction or just a firing of the man in charge?

When you look back at the current health of this franchise, and how no one was interested in them after Opening Day because of their annual dissent to the bottom of the standings from 1989 through the early years of the Dombrowski’s era, you understand what an important role he played in building this team.

Dombrowski built championship-caliber teams. His teams went to the postseason four-straight years and six out of the last nine seasons, counting the 2009 163rd game. That run is unheard of in the rich history of this franchise.

He molded them and put them in the position to win it all, but at some point the players have to get it done on their own. And they failed.

Dombrowski is no angel, but for Ilitch’s struggling Detroit Tigers’ franchise, he was their angel.

Next: Firing of Dombrowski not a surprise