It's October, and in recent years here in The Yard, that has meant a sudden uptick in my posting frequency, as I follow my Tigers through the baseball post-season, and this year, that grand tradition continues, as the Tigers have won their division for the fourth consecutive year, the first time in team history that they've appeared in four consecutive post-seasons. Although, to be candid, post-seasons these days are not what they once were, with 10 teams out of 30 qualifying for the festivities; whereas, back when Ty Cobb and the boys were appearing in three consecutive World Series from 1907-09, two teams out of 16 faced each other in the World Series, so that still seems like a bigger deal. . .
Even so, these recent years have been a period of noteworthy success for the Detroit Baseball Club. You might think that such a period of unprecedented sustained success would make for a happy group of Tiger fans. But you would be wrong. At least on a wider level; myself, I'm as happy a Tiger fan as I've ever been, except in the immediate aftermath of the '68 and '84 World Series. But at least judging from the people who call in to the sports-talk-radio stations, Tiger fans by-and-large are unprecedentedly angry and frustrated.
Both last year and this year, the Tigers finished atop the division standings by just a single game over the second-place team. Many fans, evidently spoiled by the team's run of success, think that the division race should have been over by Labor Day, and by such a dominant margin that the next-best team should be in third place, not second. When the team struggled with injuries, and a few of the players who were being counted on to perform at a high level, um, didn't, these fans became even more angry and frustrated.
The Tigers' manager this year is a man named Brad Ausmus, who is on his first managing job after a long career as a player, during which he achieved average-to above-average success from, shall we say, less-than-elite-level skills. He played two separate tours with the Tigers, during which he was a consistent fan favorite. So when he was named the Tigers' manager last winter, the move was met with approval, for the most part. But when the team failed to dominate in the 'expected' manner, a growing undertone of anger arose.
This is nothing new, mind you. For the eight seasons prior to this one, the Tigers' manager was a man named Jim Leyland, who was what they call a 'baseball lifer'. He'd had a couple previous gigs as a major-league manager, taking the Pittsburgh Pirates to a couple of post-seasons back in the early 90s, and winning a World Series with the Florida Marlins in '98. In his eight seasons in Detroit, the Tigers made the post-season four times, and played in two World Series, both of which they lost (they also lost a one-game tie-breaker in '09, which ought to count as a 'post-season' game, especially if you're going to count a one-game wild-card playoff as a post-season game; but I digress).
Virtually every day of those eight years, somebody in Detroit was calling in on talk-radio, calling for him to be fired. Because he didn't call for the bunt when he should have. Because he called for the bunt when he shouldn't have. Because he left his starter in one batter too long. Because he pulled his starter, who was obviously cruising, and good for another 23 innings. Because a hit-and-run play backfired. Because the third-baseman threw the ball into the upper deck, or the left-fielder missed the cutoff man. Etc., etc, etc. All under the general heading of "We know more about baseball than you do." A guy who's been in professional baseball for 50 years, and some pizza-delivery guy is certain that he knows more about baseball than him. 'Cuz, you know, he played baseball in high school, and he KNOWS baseball. It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.
And so this year, when injuries set in, and key players under-performed, and success was less certain than it 'should have been', the same set of brilliant fans began calling for Brad Ausmus to be fired. Or Dave Dombrowski, the general manager. Or both of them, in a public execution at home plate, before the next game. It's just a good thing that the Tigers finally did win; who knows what might have happened if they hadn't.
And here's the thing that really grinds my backside about the whole thing, even beyond the pathetic aspect of thinking they know more about baseball than a guy who's been in the game professionally for 50 years - these folks are awfully casual about wanting someone else to lose their job. Look, I know that professional sports is a results-driven business, and if you don't win, you won't keep your job for long; I get that. But the constant, day-after-day drumbeat of 'Fire the Bastard!' directed at a team, and a manager, having considerably more-than-normal success, is jaw-droppingly bizarre. Would they want other people to be as casual about pulling the plug on their continued employment as they are about the managers of their favorite sports teams? Do people act like this in other towns? I mean, other than New York?
My modest proposal - anyone who goes on talk radio and calls for the coach of his favorite team to be fired, should be judged by the same standard. Get the change wrong on a pizza order - you're fired! Have a typo in your sales report - you're fired! And so on down the line. Any bit of strategy that backfires - that's it, you're gone! Have great results year after year, but some guy with flecks of spittle on his I-phone thinks you're a moron and he could've done better? You're screwed, get outta here!
(*puff, pant*) (*puff, pant*)
(*deep, cleansing breath*)
Okay, better now. . .
Anyway, the Tigers begin their fourth consecutive post-season on Thursday against the Orioles in Baltimore. And once again, hope springs eternal. I wish all your teams well, until they play my Tigers. Maybe this will finally be our year. . .