Last week Dave Dombrowski characterized the Tigers moves at the trade deadline as a “reboot.”
On Tuesday he was given the boot—let go after 14 years as president and general manager of Detroit’s baseball club.
Make no mistake about this decision: Dombrowski was fired by Mike Ilitch yesterday.
In his statement, the 87-year old Detroit owner said he was taking this step to allow Dombrowski to “pursue other opportunities” before the offseason. But given the timing of the change so quickly after the trade deadline (new GM Al Avila admitted that the decision was made on Saturday), it’s obvious that Ilitch wanted a different man at the helm of this organization.
And that’s crazy.
Ilitch must be out of his mind
Mr. Ilitch has more money than I’ll ever have, he’s accomplished much more than I ever will, and he’s probably a smarter man than I am in many ways. But when it comes to making a decision for his baseball team, Mr. Ilitch has just proved that he’s a fool. Dombrowski is the best front office man in baseball. He’s so gifted at what he does that when he makes a trade the other team sort of suspects they’ve been swindled. He’s highly regarded in baseball, so much so that he was one of only two or three men considered for the role of commissioner last year when the job came open. And Ilitch just escorted him out of town.
Don’t believe the “experts” who question Dombrowski’s baseball IQ. There are actually online trolls who call him “Dumbrowski” as if 1) that was clever and 2) they know what they’re talking about. They don’t.
Before Dombrowski came to this town, the baseball team was a laughingstock. Do you remember? Dombrowski inherited a rotting, rancid mess and within four years he had the team in the World Series. Remember that? Do you want me to remind you that this team lost 119 games because the cupboard was so bare from the Randy Smith Era that Dmitri Young was their only All-Star representative?
In 2003 the team stabilized the dugout by hiring fan favorite and organization man Alan Trammell. That was Dave Dombrowski.
In 2004 the Tigers drafted a tall kid from Virginia named Justin Verlander. That was Dave Dombrowski.
Also in ’04 the team brought in Ivan Rodriguez and they added Magglio Ordronez in 2005. Both players served as veteran leaders who revitalized the team. That was Dave Dombrowski.
In 2006 Jim Leyland was hired as manager to lead a young team patched together via free agent signings and trades and the draft. They won 95 games and the pennant. Hiring Leyland was Dave Dombrowski’s decision and he built the team Smoky guided to the Fall Classic.
Starting in the ’06 season Comerica Park was routinely sold out and it stayed that way until the present day. That was the result of what Dave Dombrowski did.
Starting in 2006 it became cool again to wear the Old English D cap. People started wearing Detroit jerseys, tailgating at the ballpark, and caring a lot about the team and the players. That was because of Dave Dombrowski and the team he built.
Starting in 2011 the Tigers went on a four-year run in which they won the division title every year, becoming one of only 11 teams to finish in first place in four consecutive seasons. That happened because of Dave Dombrowski.
Until the 2015 season, year-after-year-after-year the Tigers added good players to their roster at the trade deadline to make a push for the postseason, putting the team in the baseball spotlight. It made the Tigers fun to watch and root for. That was Dave Dombrowski.
I could keep going. The list of great things that happened during the Dombrowski Era is long and exciting. The walkoff wins, the winning streaks, the excitement at the ballpark.
His trade record could get Dombrowski in the Hall of Fame
I haven’t even talked about the trades yet. Want to hear about them?
In 2002, DD traded popular starting pitcher Jeff Weaver to the Yankees (the Yankees) for Carlos Pena and Jeremy Bonderman. Pena had four fine seasons at first base for the Bengals and Bonderman won 67 games for Detroit, spinning his biggest win in the ’06 Playoffs when he beat the Yankees to help the Tigers to the ALCS.
Before the ’04 season Dombrowski acquired Carlos Guillen from the Mariners for Ramon Santiago. Hardly anyone batted an eye at the move. Guillen went on to be one of the best-hitting shortstops the Tigers have ever had, batting .297 in eight years with Detroit. He was instrumental in the turnaround of the team as a solid bat in the middle of the lineup.
On June 8, 2005, the Tigers traded Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina to the Phillies for veteran second baseman Placido Polanco. One of the best gloves at the position, Polanco wasn’t expected to provide too much offensively, but he did anyway. He hit .338 after being acquired that season, and two years later he hit .341, the highest mark by a Tiger second baseman since Charlie Gehringer. When Dombrowski let Polanco leave via free agency a few years later, he was criticized, but Polanco never did much after exiting Detroit.
If those were the only three deals he made in Detroit, Dombrowski could take his place among the best front office wheelers and dealers in franchise history. But there’s more. A lot more.
After the ’07 season Dombrowski packaged Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio de la Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo and presented them to the Marlins. In return he got Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. It’s important to note that the Marlins were shopping Cabrera and the reason Detroit was able to get him instead of the Yankees or another AL rival, was because Dombrowski was willing to take on Willis’s contract. He knew, as did the Marlins, that Willis was through, but he made the deal to get Cabrera, the best hitter of his generation. If you don’t know how lopsided this trade is or how it transformed the franchise, stop reading this article and go become a soccer fan. The point is—Dombrowski got Miggy for a large plate of prospects, none of whom the Tigers have missed. This was not the first time the GM would swindle other teams by flashing shiny prospects in their face in exchange for established big league talent.
After the 2009 season Dombrowski was at it again. This time he dealt two big leaguers (Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson) in exchange for two young players (Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson). Again, point-set-match to Dombrowski. With this deal, the Miggy trade, and the drafting of Verlander, Dombrowski acquired three MVP awards and two Cy Young awards. He also let go of practically nothing. Jackson was a journeyman starting pitcher and Granderson had a season where he lofted a bunch of homers into Yankee Stadium’s short porch, but that’s it. Scherzer and Jackson were keys to the Tigers stint atop the AL Central.
I haven’t talked about the acquisitions of Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and Jose Iglesias. I bet you can’t remember who the Tigers gave up to get those guys. Do you want to talk about how Dombrowski saved Ilitch a ton of money when he whisked Prince Fielder and his big ass contract out of town for Ian Kinsler? And how about J.D. Martinez? The Tigers got him for nothing.
Changed the culture in Detroit
Before he came along the Tigers watched other teams play in the playoffs, with him they went to the postseason five times.
Before Dombrowski the team didn’t sniff a World Series for nearly two decades and lost more than 100 games several times. After he rode into town and reshaped the franchise, Detroit won two pennants and had one of the best teams in baseball nearly every year.
BD (Before Dave) the Tigers finished last, grew old, and lost headlines to the Red Wings. After he arrived, they set attendance records.
The Tigers were nobodies before Dave took this job. During his tenure, they had multiple All-Stars almost every season, and MVPs and Cy Young winners. They had baseball’s first triple crown winner in more than four decades!
Before Dave the Tigers were buried and had to look up at teams like the Yankees, who seemed to win every season. During the Dombrowski Era, Detroit beat the Yankees in the playoffs three times!
Before Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers were toothless. Under his reign, they became relevant again, and for that we owe a tip of the cap to the man who pulled the levers for the last 14 seasons.
Dombrowski is the guy you want leading your franchise into the future
I’m not sure what Mike Ilitch is thinking. If he’d taken a little bit of the money he saved from not signing Max Scherzer, Ilitch could entice Dombrowski to finish his career as a member of the Tigers organization. The Detroit owner is either foolish or shortsighted. Or both.
If you asked baseball people which front office executive they would choose first if they were starting a franchise, Dombrowski’s name would be at the top of most of their lists. The man is a baseball genius. He built two world championship teams for the Marlins and he guided the Tigers out of the dark and into the 21st century as one of baseball’s model franchises, earning two pennants while in Detroit. Even his final actions as GM, the moves he orchestrated last week, look like genius trades that restocked the team’s farm system while giving up three players the team was going to lose in the offseason anyway.
Mike Ilitch might be sore about not having his World Series ring, but someone should tell him that winning in the postseason is harder now than it’s ever been. With three rounds of playoffs, a wild card, and best-of-three series, the best team is less likely to win now than ever in baseball history.
Every Tigers fan should send a gift basket to Dombrowski before he leaves Detroit.
Thanks for giving us a team to root for again, Dave.