With expectations high, Tigers’ fans are understandably impatient

Mike Ilitch desperately wants to win a World Series but he's fallen short in more than two decades of owning the Detroit Tigers.

Mike Ilitch desperately wants to win a World Series but he’s fallen short in more than two decades of owning the Detroit Tigers.

Tiger fans spoiled?

Another word to describe them is impatient.

And for good reason. In the 69 seasons since 1945, Detroit has been in the World Series four times and won it twice. Among the “original” sixteen MLB franchises, only the Cubs, White Sox, Pirates, and Twins have been there fewer times in that span; the Indians have also made it four times.

Tiger fans generally used to have attitudes closer to fans of those five other proud have-not teams than fans of the Yankees. Detroit, like most franchises, depended heavily on its farm system, and its fans recognized that bumper crops might come along maybe once a generation. But that began to change when the club left Tiger Stadium.

In so doing, it left behind many of the fans who had modest expectations, who came to watch the team, win or lose, for the kind of experience largely absent from Comerica, where the vast majority of seats are much farther from the field, and you pay a lot more for tickets, parking, and concessions.

That altered experience changed attitudes. Fans are paying more and they also realize that the players they watch make millions and the club owner is a billionaire who is profiting far more from the games than club owners did in the last century.

That owner himself is impatient. Mike Ilitch had hoped that the new stadium would enrich him, as it did, and produce the kind of profits needed to buy a world championship. But that title keeps slipping from his grasp. Every year, the aging owner wants that ring more and more.

Impatience is now verging on desperation. Detroit now has one of the five or six highest payrolls in baseball. General Manager Dave Dombrowski doesn’t let fan loyalties stand in the way of assembling a championship team. He traded Curtis Granderson—perhaps the best ambassador to the metro Detroit community that the club ever had. It proved an astute move; Granderson’s career went into decline and the Tigers nabbed Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer from the deal. He sent top farm system products Cameron Maybin and Jacob Turner packing to land Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez in separate deals with the Marlins. He wisely dealt away a player who grew up at Michigan and Trumbull, Prince Fielder.

The Tigers now share a lot of characteristics with the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox—the clubs with a lot of money signing the most expensive mercenaries. Gone is last century’s team spirit which in many ways reflected a city of hard workers with modest expectations. The stands at the ballpark now contain more fans of privilege and entitlement. Yes, they are spoiled, and certainly they are impatient. For the money they pay, they expect results.

Dombrowski now resembles a veteran casino operative. Shuffle the deck, place your bets, move on to the next table.

The trade of Rick Porcello means the only farm system products left of note are Justin Verlander, a catcher on his way out (Alex Avila) and another on his way in (James McCann), last year’s rookie third baseman (Nick Castellanos), and a motley assortment of relief pitchers.

Fans are reacting to the latest moves with weary cynicism. Can you blame them? Robbie Ray was supposed to be the secret genius ingredient in the trade for the popular Doug Fister; now he’s shipped off too. The Tigers ended 2013 with a rotation of Verlander, Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Fister, and Drew Smyly. They enter 2015 with Verlander, Sanchez, David Price, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. Is this progress? Call Price the equal of Scherzer if you want, but Fister and Smyly are markedly better than Simon and Greene. And the rotation change comes at the cost of Jackson, the man who was supposed to make everyone forget Granderson. Anthony Gose won’t make fans forget Jackson.

It feels like mix and match. Maybe Yoenis Céspedes and the return of José Iglesias and Bruce Rondon will put the team over the top in 2015. That remains to be seen.

These are not your father’s Tigers. This club is a desperate billionaire’s toy. The front office models the team’s spirit: impatience. The fans are understandably restless.

Comments

comments

About Michael Betzold

Author of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story and other books, former Detroit Free Press reporter Michael Betzold always wore #4 to honor his first hero, the "Sunday Punch," Charlie "Paw Paw" Maxwell.