Mensching: Fan disconnect grows with Tigers’ woes
In a phrase, how would you describe this Tigers team?
Hera are a few suggestions to get you started: Average. Past its prime. Decrepit. Boring. Sluggish. Repetitive. Disappointing. Rudderless. Annoying. Deflating.
The Tigers finished a six-game homestand with a 2-4 record, dropping both games to the Diamondbacks, winning the first two in admittedly exciting fashion against the Rays, then losing in routine fashion: first when the bullpen blew a low-scoring game Saturday, then never standing a chance when starter Buck Farmer self-destructed early Sunday.
The Tigers leave Detroit for a West Coast trip finding themselves 41/2 games out of first place in the American League Central, and likely with a fan base who won’t be making plans to stay up late watching.
For me the word that came to mind first when I think of the Tigers is “disconnected.”
That is, the fan base seems to be growing more and more disconnected from caring about the daily ins and outs of this team.
In my role helping manage SB Nation’s team site that follows the Tigers, Bless You Boys, I get an opportunity to interact with a lot of people, whether on the site, as a consumer of social media, as “that guy who knows about baseball” who people come to for conversations out in the real world, and as someone who has many friends who would self-identify as big supporters of the franchise.
Feeling more disconnected from the team myself this year, and wondering why, I started asking people about their experiences. “Is it just me, or … ?”
Quickly I came to learn it wasn’t just me. A typical response sounds like this:
Well, I used to schedule my day around being able to sit down and watch a game. Now I find myself doing other stuff. Tuning in late, going to bed early. Just not really caring as much. And the team isn’t that good and will probably trade everyone away in July anyway.
So I asked people, “What is it about this team?” If you’re reading this column, you probably have a pretty good idea as to some of the reasons, because you feel them yourself.
If the starting pitcher doesn’t falter, you’re pretty certain the bullpen is going to blow it. You’re frustrated from seeing the same mistakes so frequently repeated — and you name them, from baserunning to defense to routine execution to the calls made by the manager.
And the team is stale. There are no prospects left to come up as saviors — though there seldom were any to begin. There are no upcoming trades to bring in big-name help, because there are no players to offer and no room on the payroll. And it’s average. Not good. Just bad. Just there.
This is what the end of something feels like.
If you’re Tigers owner Chris Ilitch, that is not the reaction you’re hoping for when fans talk about your club. If you’re the general manager, or the manager, that is about the last thing you want to hear. And if you’re one of the players, losing is disheartening enough, but you don’t need to be told the numbers to notice a falling attendance and crowd that sits on its hands even at key moments. Except when it boos instead.
Truthfully it’s a bit sad, somewhat inevitable, but also seemingly avoidable.
The Tigers rose in 2006 when Jim Leyland took a ragtag bunch of stars, prospects and role players, and turned them into a seeming team of destiny that brought the World Series back to Detroit for the first time in 22 years.
Something was awakened here after two decades of mostly non-competitive teams just trying not to lose 100 games a year. And you heard talk about what a great baseball city Detroit is.
Over the past 11 years late owner Mike Ilitch tried his best to keep stars in Detroit, and the front office kept mortgaging the future little by little to give fans a fun, winning product.
Fans were lucky. They saw some incredible players and had an incredible run of competitive teams unlike any other time in franchise history.
Yet today it feels like a bit of a mirage when you’re watching a game at Comerica Park. Yes, there are division titles, and American League pennants flying now, and one, maybe two players likely to enter the Hall of Fame with a Tigers cap.
But there’s no ’68 or ’84 to look back on for an era that might be coming to a close if the team doesn’t play some good baseball more often the next five weeks. The fans know it, and the energy is lacking.
If it’s time, it’s time. Rebuilding is no fun. But going back to the way the Tigers looked in the 1990s would be even worse. All that can be said for certain is that when the negatives begin to outweigh the positives, the worst thing that could happen would be to stay the same.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.