“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … ”
So begins one of the greatest pieces of literature ever penned – A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. Perhaps it’s fitting that Ol’ Charlie wrote that masterpiece in 1859, just about the time that “base ball” players were beginning to get paid to play the game. I think that famous opening line is pertinent to the environment of our Detroit Tigers. Win or lose, best of times, worst of times, the air around this franchise is sweet and breathable, it envelopes Tiger Nation, it’s created a fever that this city and state never want to be cured of.
Tiger fans are watching ballgames at record levels (in the city the ratings outdraw every other program frequently). Sellout crowds are filing into Comerica Park, merchandise is being gobbled up, and Tiger talk dominates the water cooler and social media. It’s the best of times for Tiger fans.
It truly is the Golden Era of Tiger Baseball. But even when the team stumbles a bit, there are critics lurking, and unlike any other time in the history of our Tigs, the debate is more passionate than ever. People are talking about this team, fans are immersed in the Detroit Baseball Club. Rabid fans are more rabid than ever (just do a search for fan blogs), casual fans are less casual than any other time – your Mom knows that Phil Coke is a bum, your buddy who barely pays attention to sports can tell you that Miguel Cabrera is a very dangerous man at the plate. The seriousness at which fans take the Tigers is at an all-time high.
That’s one of the reasons that there’s never been a better time to be a Tiger fan, never been a period like this. The gigantic characters and superstars on this club are another reason.
There’s Cabrera of course, the man-child with incredible physical talents. This guy has a REAL CHANCE to win a second straight triple crown. Just read that sentence again and let it sink in. It’s historic and quite honestly, I have seen a lot of baseball, but I never would have believed it if I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes.
Then we have the five-headed, ten-armed starting rotation, the best the Bengals have ever had: an MVP who also won a Cy Young Award and has thrown two no-hitters; a man with two different colored eyes who throws as wicked a dipping fastball as we’ve seen in Motown, and is 19-1 and on his way to a Cy Young of his own; the hard-throwing righty who has fanned 17 batters in a game and tossed a no-hitter earlier in his career and has a chance to lead the league in ERA; the tall gunslinger who set a record by striking out 10 straight batters last season and who usually gets forgotten even though he’s been clutch in the postseason; and the #5 starter who would be much more appreciated on a less star-studded staff, but who at 24 years of age is still a few years from his prime.
Austin Jackson would be a megastar on most other teams, but he gets swallowed up here in the shadow of Cabrera and the aces, as well as the gregarious All-Star veteran Torii Hunter, who has a smile this city hasn’t seen since the impish point guard Isiah. Prince Fielder has returned to Detroit, where he first turned heads as a pudgy pre-teen who could hit the ball into the outfield at Tiger Stadium. DH Victor Martinez is a shadowy figure who doesn’t get the pub he deserves, especially for a guy with a .300 career batting average.
Mix in the curmudgeon in the manager’s chair, the wizard general manager, and the owner who acts Steinbrennian with his dough but with a kind heart, and you have a club that’s hard to ignore. They’re on their way to a third straight postseason, something that hasn’t happened since before the steel was forged for the Titanic.
Why is this team more loved and important than other teams in franchise history? What about the 1934-35 Tigs, or the ’68 and ’84 champions, you say?
Of course those teams will never be forgotten, but it’s the nature of sports today that makes the current team more followed, more debated, more exciting. Good or bad, best of times, worst of times, the Tigs are watched, tweeted about, and cheered or jeered. In ’35, ’45, ’68, and ’84, our boys were loved and lauded, but this current bunch is thrilling fans year after year after year. Starting in 2006, when Jim Leyland guided the team to the World Series in his first season in the Detroit dugout, the team has supplied drama annually. Whether it’s been no-nos, postseason heroics, near perfect games, individual accolades, love/hate relationships (Inge and Papa Grande, etc.), or greatness like Miggy and JV, this team is better than a Hollywood script.
Sure, the Tigers haven’t won the whole shooting match yet. Twice they’ve been spanked in the Fall Classic, but in today’s game with multi-layers of playoffs, it’s often a matter of who’s playing the best at the time, not which team is the best overall. That doesn’t absolve the Leyland/JV/Miggy Era Tigers from their failure to win a Series, but this run isn’t over yet. Years from now, even if this incarnation of the team doesn’t win a Series, you’ll still be telling your grandkids about Cabrera, Verlander, Mad Max, and the rest.
The Golden Era of Tiger Baseball is here, make sure you pause to enjoy it.