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Published:August 1st, 2006 12:24 EST
Restoring the Tigers Roar

Restoring the Tigers Roar

By Lonny Stewart

Three seasons ago, the Detroit Tigers were on pace to set a baseball record. They had everything necessary to compete for this time-honored title: the coaching, the pitching and the batting. Night in, and night out, their consistency was shown to the opposing teams. What many may not have realized is that the record wasn’t positive. They were on pace to lose the most games in one season in the entire history of the sport.

The Detroit Tigers finished their 2003 campaign with an embarrassing 43-119 record. While they came only four games short of breaking the mark for worst record in Major League history, set by the New York Mets in 1962, the Detroit Tigers of 2003 will forever be remembered by modern sports fans and writers as the lowest of the low; the absolute dregs of baseball.

In the off-season of 2003, leading into the 2004 season, the Tigers showed that they were willing to go out and pay top dollar for role-playing athletes that had had success with previous ball clubs. They signed all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who is affectionately called “Pudge,” and Carlos Guillen, another former all-star. In the fans eyes, the 2004 season was just another bad year for the Tigers. However, what many don’t know is that the Tigers improved their record to 72-90, which is the second highest turnaround in one season in American League history. Once again, the Tigers had been on the verge of setting new records.

2005 was a season of promise for many fans. The Tigers had once again made a lot of moves in the free agent market, signing big names like Magglio Ordonez and Troy Percival. Dimitri Young, the Tigers DH, started the season off in spectacular fashion, hitting 3 home runs in the first game. Unfortunately, many would see that as the
high point in another dismal year for the Tigers. Battered by injuries to their key players, including the recently signed Ordonez, the Tigers quickly fell out of contention. A season that had started in promise had faded into another non-winning year.  

Somebody had to take the blame – and that somebody was Tigers manager Alan Trammel. Let go at the end of the season, he was replaced with a no-nonsense, proven manager in Jim Leyland. Leyland had a history of turning around teams that had promise and making them into contenders. In 1997, his first year on the job, Leyland took a Florida Marlins team, with only five years of history in the league, to not only their first trip to the playoffs, but to their first World Series victory as well. When Leyland expressed interest in coaching again, the Tigers pounced. In September of last year, Leyland was named the new manager for the team. Once again, the Tigers – and the fans – had hope for a better year.

In reality, the fans probably never dreamed that the Tigers – a team with a recent history of being the laughingstock of not only baseball, but professional sports as well, would have a turnaround like they are having in 2006. The Tigers once again went out and signed key free agents, this time Kenny Rogers, a veteran pitching ace, and Todd Jones, an intimidating closer with an even more intimidating appearance. Combined with tough-love coaching, the Tigers raced to the top of the AL standings less than halfway through the year. By the time the All-Star break rolled around, the Tigers were in first place, and they haven’t relinquished the lead yet.

The Tigers are once again on pace to set a new record for largest turnaround in a single season. In 2005, the Tigers won 71 games. As of early August, the Tigers have already won 70 games, with 57 more to go. The Tigers are not only in first place in their division, but they also have the best record in the business. Not by a small margin, either. The closest team is still 7/1/2 games back.

The turnaround has not only re-energized the Tigers, it has completely renewed interest for baseball in a city that has been inebriated with the success of the Pistons and Red Wings. Fans sporting Tigers apparel are everywhere to be seen. Some fans have even gone the length to raise their Tigers flag above their beloved Red Wings flag. While some may see the newfound interest in the Tigers as bandwagon hopping, the bottom line is that the Tigers are playing great baseball, and the fans are selling out Comerica Park – something that the world-class stadium has not seen very much of.

Regardless of how this season turns out, it cannot possibly be considered a failure. The Tigers have built a team for the future. They have solid pitching. They have a high-powered offense. And most of all, they have the leadership of a manager who has been there before. They have given hope to not only themselves, but to legions of fans that were awaiting this well deserved success. They are commanding respect from everyone around the country, and they are getting it.