This 2015 season has been an embarrassment for the Tigers. There is no other way of putting it. The recent three-game sweep at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays was one of the worst displays of baseball we have seen in this town in a long time.
Everyone bears some responsibility for this debacle, from top to bottom. Nobody gets a free pass.
Most experts picked the Tigers to be contenders, if not division winners, when the season began. Twenty games back, ten games under .500, and in dead last, was not where the club was supposed to be at the end of August, especially given the promising 11-2 start. Even those who were the biggest doubters have to admit there was no predicting things would get this bad.
It begs the question: Is this the most disappointing and frustrating baseball season in the Motor City in our collective memory?
It certainly ranks near the top.
It’s true that Detroit wasn’t going to be as strong as it had in the past. Going into the season, the bullpen was still a big question mark. The rotation was in transition. But as the summer wore on, injuries took a toll, the starting pitching disappeared, the bats were puzzlingly inconsistent, and eventually the house of cards collapsed. Four straight division titles seem like a distant memory.
This team’s window of opportunity has come and gone. It never won a World Series title, and that will forever tarnish its legacy. If Detroit is going to reach the heights in the near future, it will have to do it with a new general manager in Al Avila, probably a new manager, and new cast of players.
Adios, amigos. Sayonara, and bon voyage. It was nice knowing you.
But in terms of performance not meeting expectations, this season has nothing on the 1985 Detroit Tigers.
Sure, that was a better team than this current crop of Bengals. But thirty years ago, the Tigers had something to prove, and they laid a big fat egg.
Coming off a dominant 1984 season in which they started 35-5 and cruised to a World Series win, there remained skeptics around the country, and indeed even in this town, who believed it was all a fluke. They felt the ’84 Tigers were more fortunate than good, more a product of destiny than anything else (if you believe in that sort of thing).
Baseball in the 1980’s was a different animal. Teams just did not repeat as champions. From 1981 to 1990, no world champion repeated. This was before the wild card, so you had to win your division to make the playoffs. In that decade, no World Series winner even repeated as division champion until the 1990 Oakland A’s, who repeated in the American League West (They ultimately lost in the World Series to Cincinnati).
That trend ultimately hurts the legacy of the 1984 Tigers. Instead of being perceived as dominant, they are viewed the same as every other champion of the 1980’s: A solid team, but one that benefitted from lesser competition. Complacency also set in. The term “fat cats” got tossed around a lot in that decade, and it was applied to the Tigers.
That is why 1985 was so important for the organization. Had the Tigers repeated as World Series winners, they would have set themselves apart from other champions in the ‘80’s.
Like the Tigers of 2015, the ’85 club flopped.
Many of the experts were predicting the Tigers to go all the way again. After a 6-0 start, it looked likely. But Detroit played at a pedestrian 78-77 clip the rest of the way. After April 28, they were never in first place. By the beginning of August, they were ten games behind the Toronto Blue Jays (both teams played in the American League East back then), and for all intents and purposes their season was over.
Their final record was a humbling 84-77, in third place, a whopping 15 games behind division-winning Toronto.
That is an abject failure for a team that had such high expectations
We love the ’84 Tigers in this town, but baseball historians look at that abysmal follow-up performance and dismiss them as a one-year wonder. And really, who can argue? The Tigers were a consistently good team for much of the decade, and even won a division title in 1987, but consistently good does not translate to greatness.
In addition, the team’s failure to repeat has probably hurt the Hall of Fame chances of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Jack Morris. Surely, with some additional World Series credentials, their prospects would be better. I do believe, however, that sometime far in the future, when none of us are around to enjoy it, all three will eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown.
The ’84 Tigers, like the ’68 club before them, could only do it once. Champions, yes. But greatness is reserved for those who make it to the summit again the next year.