The Tigers fell short this season, but are still primed as a favorite for the World Series next season. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Thursday morning, while card-shopping at Target, the cell phone rang. It was my friend, Rev. Don Worthy, a retired priest and hospital chaplain who Wednesday night in Boston attended his 205th World Series game.
Thatís right: Two hundred and five World Series games since he began in 1968 faithfully attending each autumnís baseball championship series, no matter who plays, no matter the town or the travel.
He said he couldnít quite get past the idea late Wednesday, as he watched the Red Sox leaping into each otherís arms on that field at Fenway Park, that the Tigers should have been the ones spraying champagne.
And the good padre had a point. My question: Do the Tigers players agree? Are they sufficiently resentful of how their 2013 season ended that they turn their anger and disappointment into fury that could push them to a championship in 2014?
And the answer is, I donít know.
This is a nice bunch of guys, the Tigers. Maybe too nice. They need more of a mean streak. They need more often to get mad. They need to smile less and to bare their teeth when post-season games they should win are within their grasp.
You canít change individual personalities. But you can change a teamís disposition, and that is something the 2014 Tigers must do if theyíre to realize fully the amazing reservoir of talent they have had on that roster, and will again have next season.
Fans will say a new manager, who figures to be named next week, will be responsible for turning the Tigers into, well, tigers.
And they will be wrong. Managers have influence on team comportment, but the meaningful energy and passion that helps win championships derives from the players themselves.
If they watched any of this yearís World Series, if they harbor any bitterness from their six-game knockout by the Red Sox and particularly the manner in which Game 2 slipped from their paws, they already are saying to themselves: Enough of this runner-up stuff.
This is what the 1968 Tigers told themselves after a crushing final weekend of the 1967 regular season that gave the Red Sox ó they tend to show up during the Tigersí haunted-house moments ó the American League pennant.
The í68 Tigers played like a team bent on blowing away every last shard of hearts that had been broken by those cruelties from September 1967. Attitude was as important as skill during Detroitís í68 dream season.
The í84 Tigers had much the same demeanor after they had spent too many seasons during the early Ď80s spinning wheels. They also had a roster ramrod in Kirk Gibson, who, tellingly, spent the previous off-season dedicating his mind ó and his body ó to a championship.
There, by way of one manís example, is what must happen ahead of spring camp for the 2014 Tigers.
Their players need to develop a ferocity we simply have not seen from this particular group.
It begins with individuals who together can alter this teamís ways and playoff fate.
■ Austin Jackson: In this view, Jackson is a .300 hitter. He is an All-Star center fielder, at least in terms of his skill.
Jackson, though, has had interludes where his front foot and timing get out of whack. He can hit magnificently for a stretch and just as quickly go 1-for-21. That inconsistency has to cease as Jackson prepares in three months to turn 27. His off-season must become a mission to get that foot and stride settled and consistent. Once and for all.
■ Prince Fielder: He should study Gibsonís example. Gibson was more of a mess than Fielder in 1983. His mind, his performance, his hatred to go even to the ballpark that year, drove him to a transformation that turned Gibson into a dynamo that season of Ď84, just as it later spurred him and the Dodgers to win in 1988.
Fielderís challenge is no more daunting than was Gibsonís 30 years ago this autumn. Gibson conquered. And so can Fielder. But the will has to be there, just as it must be there in greater measure for a team that canít let any 2013 repeats happen. Not on a team this blessed.
■ Alex Avila: Begin with physical health. If his black-cat-brand luck changes in 2014, Avila will be halfway to having the campaign he has always threatened to craft. But as much as his body deserves a break, Avila, who also turns 27 ahead of spring camp, needs to bust out and bat .270 or better with 20 home runs. Itís in him. It would be helpful to revamping the Tigers and their just-miss habits if he put things together next season.
■ Torii Hunter: One more year he must squeeze from a body that next summer turns 39. And it must be a full season for Hunter, straight through the playoffs. He could do for this team at crunch time what Jonny Gomes or Mike Napoli did for the Red Sox during the past month.
■ Left field: This is Dave Dombrowskiís department. The Tigersí front-office czar has to find a difference-maker for left field ó a personality as much as a performer. The Tigers were too often playing with an eight-man lineup in 2013. That canít happen next season. Get a lightning bolt for left and the Tigersí everyday personnel will be as tough as their psyches are obliged to be in 2014.
Those are but a handful of examples of how a team must change in Ď14, if, of course, the hunger to win a World Series is as intense as it is for a Tigers owner, his front office and his fans.
Itís all up to you, fellas. Did you see that Fenway celebration Wednesday night?
Next year, assuming a healthy Miguel Cabrera is there to take care of the heavy labor, your minds and your hearts have to be a match for the talents you otherwise have in ample supply.