Published July 20, 2019
There’s a reason why it’s called “conventional” wisdom. In fact, the term itself could arguably be called an oxymoron.
With the Tigers, it goes something like this. And it’s turning out to be a false narrative. Ready? Here it is.
You can’t blame manager Ron Gardenhire for the hot mess his baseball team is at the current moment—because look at what he has to work with.
Well, it certainly is conventional, alright. But when it comes to wisdom, it is lacking in that.
No one—and I mean no one, expected the 2019 Tigers to contend for anything other than for the worst record in baseball. In that regard, they’re not disappointing.
Though the losses may be piling up in more abundance than even the most pessimistic thought was possible, it’s not about the won-lost record, which as I write this is a garish 29-64—including an unsightly (and astonishing) 11-44 in their last 55 games.
Lack of talent can’t be blamed for everything
The Tigers are bad. We can all agree on that. And we can also agree that a significant lack of good big league talent is largely to blame. To a degree.
It’s not that the Tigers are losing at a rate that is almost unfathomable for a big league baseball team (hold the jokes). It’s the manner in which they lose.
The story might be apocryphal, but there’s enough to suggest that perhaps only the words were slightly tweaked from the original quote.
Casey Stengel, the venerable manager of the expansion New York Mets, was overseeing an early workout of his brand new team in 1962. After witnessing a series of blunders, all involving the tacit inability to catch or throw the ball with any semblance of competence, the Perfesser threw up his hands.
“Can’t anyone play this here game?!”
Gardenhire has presided over the Tigers for 255 games and his record is 93-162. Getting yourself 69 games under .500 in just 255 contests is no easy feat.
But again—it’s not about the winning percentage, which would make a pretty good batting average.
Uninspired efforts, foolish mistakes
The Tigers play with no guts, no pride. They daily commit mental errors, on top of the ones that show up in the box score. I’ve seen better fundamentals at a company picnic softball game.
It’s slapstick baseball. Keystone Cop stuff. Even the great baseball clown, Max Patkin, would wince.
That’s not talent, folks. That’s something darker.
Yes, the roster is filled with players who have little to no business being in MLB. Yes, most, if not all, of them will be long gone by the time the Tigers actually get it together and get around to playing real baseball.
But that doesn’t excuse what we’re seeing on a nightly basis.
I understand that the manager doesn’t play. I also know that Gardy isn’t instructing his players to commit the atrocities on the field that they do.
I also know that when a professional team is unable to conduct itself in a professional manner, that often points back to the leader.
Fundamentals not lacking—they’re absent
There’s a mental disconnect going on here. No one knows how to call for a pop fly properly. No one knows how to cover a base with any acumen. No one knows where to throw the baseball with any astuteness.
Offensively, the Tigers are undisciplined at the plate. You could start them off every inning with a man on third base and they still might only score three runs all day.
It’s OK to not be good enough to win. It’s not OK to simply not play the game the right way.
Detroit—and I’m risking sounding cliche here—is a blue collar town. Shot and beer in style. The sports fans here fall in love with the dirt bags of sports—players who lack in talent but not in effort. They have been strangely attracted over the years to the misfits as well. Just ask Bob Probert or Dennis Rodman.
Try, and the Detroit fans will love you
The 1979-80 Pistons were a joke of an NBA team that went 16-66. But you know who the fans of that team loved? A guard named Ronnie Lee. He was hardly a good NBA player—average at best—but the fans fell in love with him because Lee used the basketball floor as a giant pool, into which he would dive without fear.
Lee must have personally met half of the fans who attended games at the Silverdome that season, because he often ended up in their laps, diving for basketballs that were headed out of bounds. Lee played half of every game parallel to the floor, and the fans gobbled it up.
Ronnie Lee had as much basketball talent in his entire body as Isiah Thomas had in his left eyebrow. But Lee was a fan favorite, because of his effort.
And you know what has happened to athletes in this town who haven’t given a you-know-what about their work ethic. And you know how the fans have reacted—by kicking them in the arse on the way out of town.
The Tigers bungle their way through every game. And it’s not getting any better. You could argue that they’re regressing in the fundamentals department.
Gardy cannot be judged an innocent
It bucks conventional wisdom, but Ron Gardenhire is to blame for this.
The fans can accept losing, to a degree. The faithful may not always be the sharpest tools in the shed, but there’s enough brains among them to realize that it’s OK to lose if you’re simply not good enough. This IS a rebuild, after all.
But what we’re seeing on the field every day is despicable.
You know those baseball blooper reels that are so fun to watch? The Tigers are supplying an entire reel of their own, and the filmmaker wouldn’t even need to do any editing.
I don’t buy the notion that just because a team is lacking in talent, that automatically means that they are cleared to play the game improperly.
You don’t have enough guys who can hit a curve ball? Fine. You don’t have enough strong arms in the outfield to throw runners out? Fine.
But if you can’t throw to the right base, or hit a cutoff man, or properly take charge of a pop fly, then you’re not lacking in talent. You’re lacking in development.
Yes, that doesn’t begin with Gardenhire, but he’s doing nothing to help it.
Whatever Gardy is preaching, it’s being tuned out. The Tigers are playing as if they don’t respect the game—including their skipper.
This is the “darkest hour,” as GM Al Avila said when his contract extension was announced. Meaning, the Tigers don’t yet see the light at the end of this rebuild tunnel. And Gardenhire was never going to be the manager of the Tigers when (if) they got good again.
But he was heralded as someone—and he confirmed this himself at his first presser—who would at least have the Tigers playing the game properly.
It’s not happening, folks.
I don’t care about the hitting coach, by the way. I’ve never seen a fan base so obsessed with hitting coaches as they are in Detroit. Again, a lot of dull tools in the shed around here.
I’m going to sound like the “get off my lawn” guy here—and with I turning 56 in a couple weeks, I qualify as that guy, age-wise—but the Tigers need a swift kick between the back pockets.
They take the field with their heads in their asses and that’s where they remain from the first pitch to the last. No pride for the English D. No guts.
You can tell me that it’s not the manager’s fault because the players aren’t any good. But do you have to have talent to play the game the right way? Is that too much to ask?
Embarrassing the franchise
The Tigers aren’t just making mistakes on the field—they’re literally putting on a clinic of how not to play the game. They literally do the opposite of what you should do, as if in demonstration.
But this might be all much ado about nothing. Whispers are that Gardy is gone after this season. This is a shame, because the 2019 Tigers will be his legacy. Gardenhire wanted to manage again in the worst way, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Jimmy Leyland walked away from the Colorado Rockies after just one season (1999) as their skipper and has never been shy to say that he stunk up the joint in Denver. It was one reason why he never seriously pursued another big league managing job for more than five years. He was embarrassed. His words.
The Tigers are a laughingstock and that’s not funny. It’s disgraceful, the way they play the game.
And don’t you dare blame it all on talent, while giving the manager a pass.