There’s nothing worse than making baseball predictions in the Spring. Granted, it’s fun to pick the Cy Young Award winners before anyone’s thrown a single ball or strike. It’s exciting to guess each league’s Most Valuable Players and compare your picks with the experts’ picks – because, yes, they do it too. In this “bracket obsessed” sports world we live in, who doesn’t play Nostradamus and predict the playoff teams and the matchups on the road to the World Series? It’s great. It’s fun. It’s what sports fans do. (We’re also often wrong – which again, is what we sports fans do.) But trying to characterize a team or player this early is usually unfounded, knee-jerk, and ultimately ends up being incorrect and making us look and feel a little sheepish. For instance, how many times do teams stumble out of the blocks in the cold Spring months only to heat up when the Summer temps start cooking? How many times does a pitcher get off to a 2-2 lackluster start, but then put his team on his back in August and September in a march to the postseason? So I tread with caution with what I’m about to say and understand that this is only partially-based on the little we have seen this season — there is a history, here, with this bunch: The 2016 Detroit Tigers are fast becoming an unlikeable team.
Let’s play a game — Detroit is “Hockey Town”. The Stanley Cups line Woodward Avenue. The city loves its Red Wings.
The Lions are one of the most pathetic franchises the NFL has, but fans still fill up Ford Field every Sunday. The city loves its Lions.
The Pistons have been pretty nonexistent for the last half a decade or so. But there is still hope and desire to move the team downtown so it can be in the mix with the other teams in the city. Now say it with me: The city loves its Pistons.
But when it’s June, July, and August here, there is arguably nothing better than sitting outside and turning on an afternoon Tiger radio broadcast or watching a night game in 70-degree weather down at Comerica Park. The city loves all its teams (some I’m still not quite sure why), but it loves its baseball team. And that’s why what is happening with this ball club is so unfortunate.
Some will think this blog was set in motion by the acts (or the one single act) of Tyler Collins on Monday night. But that’s not the case. Collins’ one finger salute to the home crowd is barely a blip on the radar with this team – but it is a small example of how this team and its players have been distancing themselves from a fan base that adores them.
The Tigers sit at 9-10 through the first 19 games of the young season. That’s not in and of itself the problem – neither is the fact they have dropped 7 of their last 10, neither is the fact that their highly-touted offense seems to go into hiding too often. A team’s “love-ability” factor, if you will, is not directly tied to wins and losses. Heck, the Chicago Cubs have embraced the nickname “The Lovable Losers” for practically a century!! They’ve marketed it and made money off of it!!! Made money – off of LOSING!! Fans can see beyond losing. In fact, sometimes the losing is what brings the fans together. So don’t think this is all about the team’s record – especially their record before the month of May even begins. It’s not. It’s more.
What’s disappointing is the losing that derailed a hopeful 2015 campaign was accompanied by blame, finger-pointing, in-game rifts (and borderline fights), unexplainable managerial decisions (mixed with a sort of dismissive tenor to his tone), a release of a General Manager, and flat-out unaccountability from everyone from the Manager to the players. Happy-go-lucky Miguel Cabrera all of a sudden grew sensitive to reporters’ questions last summer. Two of the young, talented core, Jose Iglesias and James McCann, went at it in the middle of a game last season. Brad Ausmus repeatedly made questionable after questionable decision from the dugout – while never really endearing himself to the media or the fans. And then, Victor Martinez made the egregious mistake no athlete in the public eye should ever make: he called out the fans. Oh, Victor.
When you add up the losing and the underachieving and the fact that this collection of core players has not been able to seal the deal with a World Series ring, it’s one thing. But when you couple all that with the drama, the lack of connection, and the feeling that the players are letting their own frustrations take shape on the field and in the clubhouse – that’s a whole different story.
Maybe this is what happens with teams that don’t quite achieve to their potential and know themselves that they failed to do so. Take another recent Detroit sports team: The “Going to Work Era” Pistons. That team won a championship, reached the mountaintop, and even hung around the top for many years despite failing to win another crown. That team was great and beloved. But what was love for many years turned quickly to down right disdain after it set in that there were no more titles to be had – the one would have to suffice. Eastern Conference Championships were not going to cut it. The fans felt this way – but so did the players. While the fans griped and contended that team should have won at least 2 NBA Championships in that era, the players knew they let some glory slip by as well. And knowing that led to frustration on the court and with the media – and frustration led to what was a sad, quick demise where the fans no longer could even stand listening to interviews with the players. It was over. The winning. And the love. It sure seems like the same song and dance with these Tigers. Let’s hope not.