Detroit Tigers: The Abridged Season in the Sun

The Detroit Tigers finally start their “Season in the Sun”.

As the Detroit Tigers ready themselves to kick off the 2020 campaign, it was good to recall the legendary Roger Kahn who penned “A Season in the Sun” in 1976 where he chronicled his season-long travels taking in events at multiple levels of baseball and telling stories in vignette style. Was it his finest baseball work? Probably not, the man wrote the incomparable “The Boys of Summer” after all. What it was, however, was an enjoyable change of pace from only looking at baseball on one level and in the fashion, most are used to. It wasn’t the typical baseball tome.

In many respects, it’s a good inspiration for anyone wanting to chronicle the Tigers or MLB, in general, this season. It’s something we haven’t encountered. There will be challenges in placing perspective and context upon a season that may fly by quickly or could be halted at any moment. Good luck to all getting this one completely right. A different lens might be useful.

As the Detroit Tigers embark upon another Season in the Sun in 2020 they are looking to take steps forward in their process of rising up from the depths they’ve somewhat voluntarily sunk to over the last few seasons. This is a 47-win team from 2019 hoping to put itself on the path to respectability. The question now is, can a 60 game haul give them any true idea of where they stand at its completion?

In short, what does this brief season ultimately tell us?

There will be plenty of arguments either way and narratives will form. If the generally recognized powers in baseball run roughshod over the league, the “cream rises to the top” arguments will be heard. If some club rises from the depths, like the Tigers, to win 10 out of 11 and vaults itself into contention the “short season fluke” accusations will be all too easily tossed around.

There is already plenty of speculation that this season’s World Series winner will possibly get less respect than a winner in a normal season. This is probably true in the short run. But this will likely fade over time. Nobody seems to care, and many don’t even immediately recall, the circumstances in 1981 under which the Los Angeles Dodgers won a title. That was the split season interrupted by a work stoppage in mid-season. The Reds had the best-combined record in the NL between the two halves but missed the playoffs under the rules in place. However “Flags Fly Forever” and the Dodgers like their ‘81 flag. It counts. Eventually, the 2020 flag will fly proudly in an MLB park.

Individual achievements will also occur and they’ll garner different levels of respect. For instance, Matthew Boyd is going to be an Opening Day starter for a major league team. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first week of April or now late July. This is Opening Day and Boyd is getting the ball from his club. It’s a moment he can be proud of forever no matter the COVID-related mayhem attached to 2020.

But other achievements will get less respect. If Casey Mize pitches lights out in his debut can he win the Rookie of the Year if he only starts 9 or 10 games versus a position player who might play in 50+ contests? More importantly, will observers put any stock in individual awards like the MVP and Cy Young in a short season? Max Scherzer winning a Cy in ‘20 gets added to his pile no questions asked. If Jake Odorizzi goes nuts for 12 starts and cops an award, it gets less respect this year most assuredly.

Do front offices get much of a pass in a weird year like 2020? Al Avila took over as GM after caddying for Dave Dombrowski for many years. Avila has mostly presided over losing clubs in his tenure. Certainly, much of it has been by design as the dreaded “rebuild” term gets tossed around. Eventually, the corner must be turned though. It’s questionable that 2020 was going to be that year in Detroit under normal circumstances but improvements were expected by many. Teams don’t win 47 games back to back and expect things to stay static at the top. Now? They’re playing 60 games. Nearly anything is possible. A couple of hot streaks and suddenly the Tigers are over .500. However, no one would be too shocked by a 22-38 record either. No matter the record, it seems from this view Avila (and Ron Gardenhire) will get a pass in ‘20 as long as the team is reasonably watchable, a couple of young players show promise pointing to better times ahead, and perhaps one or two of Detroit’s free-agent signings (Cron, Schoop or Nova) play well showing front office acumen on Avila’s part.

For the players, the ones with modest deals have no choice. This “Season in the Sun” is what they have to deal with. They only get so many seasons in a career. It can be a cruel game with limited opportunities. COVID-19 has truncated this year giving players less time to prove their worth. For Tigers like Christin Stewart, Victor Reyes, and Daniel Norris among many others, it’s a chance to shine if even for only a few weeks. The simple truth is, other players are coming in the system or will be brought in. The players on hand now players need to show something or get swallowed up by baseball’s natural selection process. The game stands still for no one…unless you have Miguel Cabrera’s contract. (Speaking of Cabrera, a short season hitting spree bringing back wondrous nostalgic feelings would be fun! How about it, Miguel?)

The Tigers organization as a whole is only getting a snapshot of where they are now. It’s truly going to be impossible to really judge much for the long term on what we’re about to watch over these 60 games. Some of the positives and negatives will be real. Just as many will be easily shifted aside as short-season anomalies as well. Make of it what you will…teams will reach hard conclusions at their own peril.

For the fans…it’s baseball. It’s not perfect and it could be fleeting. But it’s the season we have. We’ll only get a taste of the daily rhythms provided by baseball over two months instead of six. That’s okay. People from many walks of life are dealing with real problems. A shortened season is better than no season. There will be triples in the gap. There will be 98-mph heaters blowing past hitters in the 9th. There will be bad calls and there will be horrific losses and thrilling wins. It’s baseball…and we’ll settle in to watch. It’ll be different. The DH is universal and a runner will start at second base in the 10th inning. But if you’ve come to watch the Tigers, it’s nearly here. It’s a distraction we could all use no matter the ultimate outcome.