Toothless Tigers: baseball’s basement is too crowded

Giving young players a chance to grow? More like a salary dump that turned into a dumpster fire. Too many MLB teams won't even strive for mediocrity

Bruce DowbigginIt’s always exciting to watch history, to see once-in-a-lifetime performances. A show so notable you’ll tell your grandkids, “I saw them play.”

The list should include the 1976-’77 Montreal Canadiens, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 2017 Golden State Warriors … the 2019 Detroit Tigers.

The what? The Detroit Tigers? What’s that all about?

To paraphrase announcer Brent Musburger, “You are looking live at immortality!”

The Tigers stand on the verge of baseball ignominy. With just two weeks left in the Major League Baseball season, they’re going to join a select club of losers in the post-Second-World-War era, struggling to win 50 games.

The 1962 New York Mets – the standard in futility – won 40 games (losing 120) in their first MLB season. The 2003 Tigers, another blot on baseball history, won 43 and lost 119. The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates lost 112 games (in a 154-game schedule). Even the 1988 Baltimore Orioles – who lost 21 straight games to start the season – still ended with 54 wins.

These Tigers sit at just 46 wins after the weekend. They’re also in line to be the first MLB team in the modern era not to win 30 games at home in a season. The Tigers sit at 22 wins at Comerica Park. They’re better on the road – and they stink there with just 24 wins! They feature a sparkling -313 run differential.

They’ve lost 16 straight games against division opponents Cleveland. Their 567 runs scored is 101 fewer than anyone else in the American League. Pitcher Spencer Turnbull, who leads the majors with 15 losses, is 0-12 in 16 starts since beating Atlanta on May 31.

Okay, the Tigers say, we’re giving young guys a chance to play. Indeed they have, dumping their few fungible assets like Nick Castellanos in give-away trades during the season. So let’s list all the young players who’ve made a leap forward under this regime.

(Jeopardy music plays here.)

Yeah, there is no Vladimir Guerrero Jr., no Cavan Biggio, no Bo Bichette – all Toronto Blue Jays – in Detroit. Just a lot of guys who’ve learned how to lose, and lose a lot, wearing the old English D for Dreadful on their jersey. (Maybe salary hostage Miguel Cabrera is teaching them the finer points of avoiding child support?)

So heads will roll, right?

In the midst of this carnage, Tigers ownership gave general manager Al Avila a three-year contract extension. Manager Ron Gardenhire is expected back. But then, we told you at the start of the season that Detroit was eliminated from the post-season by the seventh-inning stretch of opening day.

The Tigers’ implosion has given cover to some other wretched MLB souls. While the Blue Jays started out like a dumpster fire, they have rallied modestly since throwing their entire farm system on the field. Guerrero, Biggio and Bichette have given hope, But just three years after their magic playoff run, Toronto is going to lose 95 games – minimum.

The Baltimore Orioles were in lockstep with the Tigers until recently but even they couldn’t match Detroit’s brutal pace. The O’s will surpass the Mets’ famous record, but just barely. The sight of an overpaid Chris Davis still getting at-bats with a line that reads .174 batting average/10 home runs/34 runs batted in is head shaking. During an August loss to the Yankees, Davis had to be restrained from going after Orioles manager Brandon Hyde.

Seattle was 18-15 on May 1. Since then, they’ve lost 75 games and traded away several top players. The Kansas City Royals will have to go all-in to nudge the 60-win mark. But they simply can’t match the Tigers’ 50 games behind the division leading Indians.

Things aren’t as dark in the National League, where only those perennial incompetents, the Miami Marlins, are posting another stinker. Derek Jeter’s hobby farm sits at just 54 wins – 45 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

However, the total second-half collapse of the Colorado Rockies is worth noting. They were 30-27 on June 1. As of today, they’re 67-88.

This is not a good look for MLB. But with no salary floor, the floor isn’t the limit.

As we wrote in April, it’s not that MLB has hit the skids financially. The average MLB team was worth $1.645 billion in 2018, seven per cent more than in 2017.  The New York Yankees are worth an estimated $3.7 billion. Even mid-rank teams such as the Blue Jays are valued over $1 billion.

While it can’t command national TV rights like the National Football League, MLB’s social-media presence and regional deals are still substantial. And with gambling industry income now flowing in a number of states, that will only get better.

What’s annoying is when large markets act like small markets. And you know who you are, Toronto Blue Jays. The Rogers Communications-owned club has a captive audience of 37 million Canadians and is in the fourth largest urban market in MLB. And yet it pretends it’s Kansas City. Sorry, no money to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox!

The question for the Tigers and their brothers in awfulness is can they reward fans with a bounce-back?

The Tigers made the 2006 World Series after the 2003 disaster cruise. But only two teams a year can make the Series. And if the Tigers, Jays, Royals, Marlins and Orioles aren’t substantially better within two years, MLB is going to have a problem on its hands.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.

© Troy Media


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