Lórenzo and the Frustrating, Annoying, Perplexing, Distressing Detroit Tigers
Where do I even start?
In the 1990s, the Detroit Baseball Tigers were not very good at, you know, baseball. Sure, Michael Jordan and Grant Hill and Allen Iverson were monopolizing my sports attention, but I wasn't missing anything by not paying our baseball team much mind. Baseball itself always seemed cool enough - the bite on a nasty curveball; a beautifully turned double-play; a home run absolutely crushed to centerfield - but somehow the Tigers could make it look absolutely boring. I'd catch the odd game on Sundays after church with my grandma or during the summer when there'd be nothing else on television to watch, wondering how the Tigers were supposed to be competitive with guys like Bobby Higginson or Damion Easley or Robert Fick as our best players. Even Detroiters reading this article probably can't recall any of those names sans Wikipedia, and I'm sure their Wikipedia pages are just as boring as their baseball games were. (Feel free to check; I can't bring myself to care enough.) The Pistons sucked back then too, but I could at least enjoy Grant Hill's offensive brilliance or Jerry Stackhouse averaging thirty points a game that one random season. The Tigers were just lame from top to bottom.
In 2003, the Detroit Tigers had a win-loss record of 43 and 119.
Forty-three and one hundred nineteen. To reiterate: over the course of five months, they won forty-three games. That's an average of nearly 8 wins a month. Baseball players essentially play everyday from April until September, so they were essentially going 8-for-30 EVERY MONTH.
43-119 equates to a TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT WIN PERCENTAGE. It's one of the worst statistical baseball seasons in American League history across the board, and with two more losses, they would've broken the record for most losses in the history of Major League Baseball. By comparison, this year's Golden State Warriors won 40 more games with 80 less opportunities.
They were brutal, man. Absolutely brutal.
I knew Detroit wasn't a prime free-agent destination (that same summer, the Pistons signed Chauncey Billups to be our starting point guard, and that was considered a coup for the franchise - which it actually turned out to be, but still, really?), so how was a historically bad team in this market supposed to get any better? I still didn't care much about the Tigers, but it's pretty demoralizing to hear how bad your city is from all angles, and then turn on SportsCenter and have them pile on even more. Somehow our baseball team became a bigger joke than our football team. Do you know how terrible you have to be for that to happen?
I suppose this is where this essay is supposed to take a positive turn. The Tigers organization spent the 2004 offseason courting a slightly past-his-prime Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez, absolutely shocking the entire city when they convinced him to sign. He didn't make the team much better, but he gave the franchise instant credibility, because why would any superstar in their right mind want to play for the Detroit Tigers? The next year, the Tigers signed Magglio Ordóñez away from our rival Chicago White Sox, which I still have no clue how they finagled. The season after that, Justin Verlander made the major-league roster, the team won 95 games, and - voilà! - we were in the World Series. By and large, the Tigers have been competitive ever since.
I'm not quite sure when I truly started believing in the Tigers, but my fandom definitely crystallized during the 2006 American League Championship Series, when Magglio hit the walk-off homer that sent us to the World Series. I remember that day so well: Saturday, October 14, having elected to go to the movies with some of the homies instead of staying home and watching the game with my dad. But I was keeping tabs on what was happening from my terrible Nokia minute-phone. I damn near lost my mind in that theater once I found out we'd won. I thought the Tigers would suck forever. They only took 3 years to prove me wrong.
But, despite all that, here's why this essay isn't taking that positive turn.
The Tigers did not win the World Series that year, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals fairly anticlimactically. The next season, despite winning 88 games, they missed the playoffs. Two seasons later, up 3 games in the American League's Central division with FOUR GAMES TO PLAY IN THE SEASON, the Tigers lost three of those four games, forcing them to play a one-game tiebreaker for the division against the Minnesota Twins in Minnesota. They lost.
Since the beginning of the 2006 season, the Detroit Baseball Tigers have a cumulative record of 864-756, more than 100 games above .500. They've employed one of the five-most dominant pitches of the decade and one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Those two, Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, have each won MVP trophies and earned Triple Crown accolades (Verlander led the American League in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average in 2011; Cabrera led the League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in in 2012). Year after year after year, the Tigers have gone after the "superstar" deemed necessary to get us over the proverbial hump: Dontrelle Willis, Prince Fielder, David Price. Still no rings to show for it.
I don't know what hurts more: the blowing the division in 2009, or getting swept out of the World Series in 2012 by San Francisco, or getting waxed by a clearly inferior Boston Red Sox team in 2013. My gut says 2012, since we were heavily favored going into the Series and I fought off sleep for a week due to a six-hour time difference during my semester abroad in London. But 2013 is ... fairly indescribable. In the Game 6 loss that sent us home for the season, there was this ridiculous baserunning gaffe that served as a sort-of microcosm of that era of Tigers baseball: Prince Fielder and all his heft getting caught in a rundown between third base and home plate, ultimately getting thrown out trying to belly-flop back to the third-base bag. The Tigers knew how to make the difficult look routine (The home runs! The phenomenal pitching! Ownership throwing bags of money at players to ensure a championship!) But when it came down to it, the biggest guy with the biggest expectations couldn't even run the bases correctly. The breaks.
There really isn't a moral to this essay, I suppose. I needed a venting session, and this is my website, so here we are. I politely asked my best friend to write about these bums, but she declined. Every April, I manage to talk myself back in to believing this could be the year, which is largely a byproduct of the fact that Miguel Cabrera still bats third in the Tigers' lineup everyday. But by mid-May, the cracks inevitably begin to show. That great pitcher we signed to shore up our bullpen never pans out. All those great bats surrounding Miguel begin to disappear. Next thing I know, the Tigers are something like 7 games out of the division lead. My baseball team was supposed to rule the American League Central until like 2020, but somehow the Kansas City Royals got a championship before us. I really can't explain why we have such a difficult time closing the deal.
As of 2:00AM, June 8, the Detroit Baseball Tigers have 30 wins and 28 losses, good for second place in the division and only 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the division lead. They've won five games in a row and just won a game tonight that the Tigers I know and love would've definitely found a way to lose. Actually, they lost a game just like this a week ago.
Prior to this winning streak, however, they'd lost something like a trillion games in a row and were lining up to be the disappointment a whole lot of Detroiters were anticipating. Because, prior to that, they'd won like a zillion games in a row and, it seemed, were starting to round into shape. Every game is like a rollercoaster with these guys, and you think it'd make more sense to seek these thrills somewhere else than to keep going over the same damn hill every summer.
At the same time, though, could this be the year?
Christ, I'm a masochist.