Pudge Will Always Be a Tiger

Five years ago, the Detroit Tigers were in the throes of a painful 43-119 season and the franchise was never on shakier ground.

Rumors were flying that the Tigers were unable to make their payroll and had to borrow money from Major League Baseball.

Crowds were not showing up at Comerica Park.  Not serious crowds at least.  And team owner Mike Ilitch was forced to sell the concession rights for Comerica Park to Sports Service.

Then Pudge arrived.

In the depths of winter, an All-Star face was on the covers of our newspapers — and he was wearing the old English D.

It seemed a miracle.  Surely, no one in their right mind wanted to play baseball in Detroit anymore.  But Ivan Rodriguez, the destined Hall of Fame catcher, was beaming from ear to ear as the announcement was made by General Manager Dave Dombrowski.  It seemed an impossible task, but we all wanted to believe Pudge when he said, “You’re going to see this Detroit Tigers team in the playoffs real soon.”

Life had been breathed into a Detroit Tigers team on the verge of dying.

Soon others followed like Magglio Ordonez — and Detroit became a hotbed for Latino players from the Caribbean to South America.  Fans started showing up at the ballpark again and season tickets were no longer a chore to give away.  The Tigers were exciting once more — and a city that’s had a 100-plus year love affair with the Tigers came back with open arms.

Pudge made good on his ’04 press-conference promise.  Two years after coming to Detroit, the Tigers were in the playoffs for the first time since 1987.  In fact, they marched all the way to the World Series.

In terms of importance to the franchise, the acquisition of Pudge can be categorized alongside the signing of Mickey Cochrane in 1934 and Willie Hernandez in 1984.  Pudge may now be wearing Yankee pinstripes, but in the minds of millions of Tigers fans across the country he is a Tiger for life.

Thank you, Pudge.  We’ll never forget you.