Michigan vs. Ohio State, Red Wings vs. Blackhawks, Pistons vs. Bulls, Michigan State vs. Insecurity, Lions vs. Matt Millen…all our teams have that arch rival. That team — or former broadcasting buffoon — that boils your blood and bonds fans and players together when they’re on the opposite sideline. Their colors, stadiums, and images of their screaming fans drive you crazy and you’re certain the feeling is mutual.
However, despite their over 100-year existence, the Detroit Tigers currently find themselves without their Joker, their Darth Vader, their Pepsi or their Microsoft.
There are valid reasons for their lack of a villain. It’s not always the case, but typically a rival should be in the same general geographical location as the team they’re pitted against. The Tigers are in a division that is only 18 years old. Before their move from the AL East, a rivalry was perhaps forming with the Toronto Blue Jays but now the Tigers only see them a few times a year since they defected to the American League Central. Of the five teams that have moved to the new division, three of them — the White Sox, Twins and Royals — brought long-time AL West rivalries with them. Despite the Tigers being in a couple of pennant chases with the Twins recently, the White Sox are the Twins nemesis simply because history is on that rivalry’s side. The Royals just haven’t been good enough to have a main enemy for a long, long time.
Conventional wisdom would say that the Tigers and Indians should be rivals. The entire recipe for hatred is there. Besides a four-year hiatus in the 1990s, the Indians and Tigers have been in the same division since they’ve existed in baseball. Additionally, Cleveland and Detroit are geographically close and they reside in two states that could care less if the other launched out to orbit.
Here’s the problem—they’re NEVER good at the same time. While the Tigers were wallowing in Randy Smith turmoil, the Indians were regularly pounding the rest of the AL Central. When the Tigers finally got good the last half decade, the Indians decided to try to write the script for another Major League sequel. Quick, someone get Wesley Snipes out of jail!
It’s really just bad timing and dumb luck that has led the Tigers to this rival-less position. Maybe they can get something brewing with the Angels after the Justin Verlander/Jered Weaver showdown that highlighted the 2011 regular season — which has been given a jolt as the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder acquisitions have put both teams in the limelight. They definitely can’t be fan favorites among the Yankees faithful after knocking the “champs” out of the playoffs twice in six years. But even besides residing in different divisions, there are problems with those rivalries. The Yankees have the Red Sox, and the Angels are a couple thousand miles away in a (Disney)land that has nothing in common with the Midwest.
While it appears that the Tigers will be good for a while thanks to their under-30 core of superstars, their best hope for their true rival resides in the Indians getting and staying good. 2011 was interesting early on, and some hatred seemed to be blossoming, but once August came around the Indians were bottoming out as the Tigers were surging. A divisional race never really materialized.
Everyone needs their bad guy to help define themselves. Because of this, I’m wishing the Cleveland Indians success in 2012 — but only enough to finish a couple games out in the division.