How Dave Dombrowski came to be a Tiger savior

Dave Dombrowski Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch hired Dave Dombrowski 10 years ago, a move that has led to the resurgence of the franchise.

It was a crucial move that set the course for turning around a once proud franchise that had failed miserably for years.

Ten years ago, Mike Ilitch named Dave Dombrowski team president in the hopes of reinventing the Detroit Tigers.

Upon inheriting a farm system bereft of talent and a major league squad that would have had problems competing in the minor leagues, Dombrowski eventually righted the ship after he added the title of GM in 2002.

Within five years Dombrowski’s decisions led the team to the World Series in 2006, the same year he was named Baseball America’s Executive of the Year. He could have won the award this year as the team just missed another World Series appearance thanks in large part to the key transactions he made in the second half of the season with the acquisitions of Doug Fister, Delmon Young, and Wilson Betemit.

His decisions have not always worked out, such as failing to re-sign Placido Polanco (possibly an Ilitch move) and trading away Jair Jurrgens. But for the most part I don’t think people can complain. (see Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Magglio Ordonez, Fister, etc.)

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Dombrowski is how he first joined Major League Baseball.

When Dombrowski was 20 years old he interviewed then Chicago White Sox GM Roland Hemond for his 63-page Western Michigan University Honors College undergraduate thesis entitled, “The General Manager: The Man In the Middle”.

The meeting would prove to be fortunate.

At the end of their discussion, Dombrowski told Hemond that he aspired to be a baseball general manager, a dream first expressed to the surprise of his 8th grade classmates in his hometown of Paylos Heights, Illinois, a Chicago suburb where he was raised in a two-income, blue collar family with two younger sisters.

After completing the thesis interview, Hemond told Dombrowski that if he wanted to get into baseball management, he should pursue accounting and attend the annual baseball winter meetings that December where he would introduce him to some baseball executives.

“Lo and behold, when I walked into the lobby of the Honolulu hotel for the winter meetings, there was Dave,” Hemond told me in an interview I conducted for an article I wrote on Dombrowski for D Businesss Magazine four years ago.

With the blessing of his parents, Dombrowski had cashed in the savings bonds that relatives had given him as gifts to pay for the trip.

“I was very impressed that this young man was able to get himself to Hawaii. After I met with Dave in my room and asked him a lot of questions, I called up Bill Veeck (then the White Sox owner) and said, ‘remember the young man I met with a few months ago? I’m now even more impressed with the passion he has to get in the game.’ Bill said, ‘have him stop by the office when he gets back.’”

Upon returning to Chicago, Dombrowski accepted an $8,000 job as an administrative assistant in Player Development with the White Sox and took night and correspondence classes to complete the 12 class hours needed to obtain his business administration degree.

Within just four years, at age 25, Dombrowski was named assistant General Manager before adding the title of Vice-President of Baseball Operations in his last year with Chicago in 1986. In 1987 he joined the Montreal Expos, where he stuck for six seasons, first as the Director of Minor League Clubs before becoming at age 31, the youngest General Manager in history at the time.

The opportunity of a lifetime was presented to Dombrowski in 1991 when Wayne Huizenga hired him as General Manager to develop from scratch the newly formed Florida Marlins who began play in 1993. Within five years the expansion team won a World Championship, but when Huizenga decided to sell the club, Dombrowski was forced to conduct a fire sale of his star players.

Dombrowski left the Marlins as team President and GM to take over the Tigers.

Without question it was the best move Mike Ilitch has made since purchasing the Tigers nearly 20 years ago.

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