They are the thankless jobs, the positions that come with built-in goat’s horns. They are the crummiest jobs in sports, where if you do your job, you were supposed to, but if you mess it up, we’ll kill you.
Let’s take a look at the worst jobs in sports and who occupies them in Detroit.
Third base coach for the Tigers (Current occupant: TBD)
The Tigers will have a new third base coach in 2014, as it appears Tom Brookens will be unemployed. Last season, Brooky was waving runners in from third (taking the place of Gene Lamont) and most of the time he got hell for it. Saddled with a slow team, Brookens couldn’t really win – if he sent players and they were safe, it was probably because they would have made it anyway. If they were out, well, then the you-know-what hit the fan. It probably only seemed like Brookens sent Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder to their doom dozens of times (Detroit runners were thrown out at home less than the average team in each of the last three years), but don’t tell that to armchair managers who were sure they could have done a batter job flapping their arms or putting up stop signs.
Goalie for the Red Wings (Current occupant: Jimmy Howard)
You just don’t want to be the goalie, too many bad things can happen, often through the fluky bounce of the puck. Sure, chicks might dig you for your 90-plus save percentage, and you can seem very menacing in your pads and ultra-cool hockey mask, but allow a late goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs and your a bum. It’s a very thankless job, one where “what have you done for me lately’ is really all that matters.
The Tigers closer (Current occupant: TBD)
This gig is so stressful that there will be a new guy doing it next spring for the third straight season. The most comical stretch was in early 2013, when Detroit started the year without a closer, signed Jose Valverde (after no one offered him a deal as a free agent in the previous off-season), struggled with Papa Grande, demoted him, and then handed the job to Joaquin Benoit. Benoit eventually allowed a grand slam to David Ortiz in Game Two of the ALCS in one of the worst defeats in the history of the franchise. Benoit is a free agent and will probably sign elsewhere. Jose Veras, a closer who was acquired via trade in 2013, has been let go. The Tigers closer of the future, Big Bruce Rondon, is apparently too green to handle the job yet. That means the team will probably sign a free agent closer, possibly Joe Nathan, to take the job for 2014. Being the closer is a tough job for many reasons. First, you are trying to nail down victories, and if you flub it up, everyone in the ballpark sees you do it on the mound. Second, many times the save opportunity is a piece of cake – three outs with a three-run lead. Third, the closer role is very overrated, but most fans don’t think so. They think the man who gets the three outs at the end is more important than almost anyone on the roster. Call it the Major League syndrome, as in Major League, the campy 1990s movie starring Charlie Sheen (yes, really) as the closer who enters the game to fire 100-mile per hour fastballs and get the glory. Since that movie, and since Dennis Eckersley made the closer role a glamorous one, the last out of baseball games has taken on a much more critical role in sport. Fans rise, thunderous applause fills the stadium, and players exult in joy or sink in sorrow depending on the outcome. It’s mostly fake drama, but when a team loses games that they should have won because their closer blows it, talk radio goes crazy. Even casual fans know the name of their closer, because it’s a love/hate relationship built on angst and anxiety.
Placekicker for the Lions (Current occupant: David Akers)
Like the closer in baseball, the placekicker is called on in crucial spots at times to win the game. There’s one big difference though: the placekicker looks like an Average Joe, just a schmuck no bigger or more an athlete than the poor sap who sits two cubicles away from you in the office. When the kicker misses the field goal, he can be the most hated man in the city. heck, he has to make everything from 40 yards in or he’s a friggin bum. Only if he nails a 50-yard plus boot does he get any appreciation. There are few placekickers who last very long in one city, which is why Jason Hanson was such a rarity. But – and this is a big but – Hanson played for miserable Lions’ teams who almost never went to the playoffs. He never had a big kick in his entire career in the playoffs or regular season that was very crucial at all. That made it much easier on Jason in Detroit. Now, Akers has to fill his shoes, quite literally, and believe me, if he misses a gimme or anything less than 45 yards in a tight spot, he’ll get booed out of Ford Field.
Anyone in the front office of the Pistons (Current occupant: Joe Dumars and friends)
Can you find a Pistons’ fan who really loves this team? It’s amazing that, given all their success in the early 2000s, the Detroit Pistons have a hard time drawing fans to the Palace. Equally amazing is the fact that most Detroit sports fans will dog Joe Dumars given the chance. Whether it’s the drafting of Darko Milicic or the Allen Iverson trade, Detroiters like to pile on Joe D. That’s incredible, considering how popular Dumars was as a player, and that he built a team that went to six straight conference finals and won an NBA title without a superstar on the roster. Yet, Dumars and the Piston front office is lambasted for their management of the team for the last four years, when they’ve failed to make the playoffs.
Quarterback of the Lions (Current occupant: Matthew Stafford)
Last week against the Chicago Bears, Stafford made his 41st consecutive start for the Lions, setting a franchise record. Which is really quite remarkable. That means in the long history of the Lions, in more than 75 years, they had never had a QB play essentially three straight years without either getting hurt or being so crappy that they were cut, traded, or benched. After decades of so-so passers like Gary Danielson, Eric Hipple, Erik Kramer, and Scott Mitchell, and mediocre to miserable play callers like Jeff Komlo, Rodney Peete, and Jon Kitna, and busts like Chuck Long and Joey Harrington, the Lions finally have a good QB who has consistently been able to lead them on the field. Stafford is a gunslinger with moxy, and after a few years of fragility, has evolved into one of the brightest young passers in the NFL. He’s on pace to toss for more than 5,000 yards for the second time in three seasons, and he’s currently 23-31 as a starter, which for the Lions is practically a championship pedigree. But, any time you’re the quarterback of the team, you are a central point of criticism. When the Lions lose, Stafford can’t win close games. When the offense sputters, it’s on young Matthew. When passes fly over receiver’s heads, boos rain down on the QB. He might be “big man on campus” in high school and college, but the quarterback is the scapegoat in the NFL. The critique is deserved, however, as QB play is the most important factor in the success of a football franchise. Stafford is handling it better than anyone since Bobby Layne for the Lions, and he last strapped on the helmet for Detroit more than 50 years ago. But unless he takes the Lions to the Super Bowl (getting there will be enough for this inept franchise), he’ll always be a bum to a lot of fans.