No comfort zone for the Tigers. Not this year.
The 2014 Tigers were designed, supposedly, to be reminiscent of the Detroit club of 1984. A 30th anniversary celebration.
Those were the Tigers, who started off with the historic 35-and-5 record and caused manager Sparky Anderson to fret the rest of the summer that they would squander their enormous advantage.
But they swept through the playoffs — a shorter version then — and won the pennant and frolicked through the World Series. Jack Morris. Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Larry Herndon.
The current, fickle Tigers are mere imposters.
Twice now they have gained comfortable leads in the American League Central. And twice now they have frittered away their once-sizeable advantages.
They have settled into an uncomfortable second place in the weakest division in lame-duck commissioner Bud Selig’s Major League Baseball empire.
Tigers are, in a word...
The other day, Brad Ausmus used a picturesque word, quite prevalent among Ivy Leaguers, to describe the Tigers’ recent, lamentable trip.
“Crappy,” Ausmus told journalists, employing a word he must have learned while an undergrad at Dartmouth.
I can verify that this word is among the language used by Ivy Leaguers, as it might have been something I uttered upon seeing my grades at Brown.
And indeed, I recall the late Bart Giamatti, graduate of Harvard and later president of Yale, using a stronger form of this descriptive word during a luncheon we shared while he was commissioner of Baseball.
Brad would have been well served to use “crappy” to describe the Tigers’ entire season.
Then there is the response to the impassioned denizens of Comerica Park by closer Joe Nathan, triggered by some ballpark booing. I never knew a chin flick was actually a vulgar gesture. I always thought selective deployment of one particular finger expressed a strong message.
A chin flick, apparently, is just as nasty in certain elements of society, according to my research.
Never too old to learn.
Baseball players today definitely are more mannerly than when Ted Williams played at Fenway Park. Times were when he saluted all of Boston’s boo-meisters, in the ballpark and those citizens observing via television, to the old-fashioned two-armed gesture.
That signal also had frequent usage among Ivy Leaguers — along with some of the pithy vocabulary Williams used often. Mother, too often, resorted to a bar of soap to wash out my mouth.
All told, this has been a most interesting season for Detroit baseball. Interesting and bizarre.
Even one of the Tigers’ treasured giveaway nights created some national mockery. The Miguel Cabrera bobblehead became a rare collector’s item when the Tigers gave them away this weekend. The inscription identified Cabrera as “National League MVP.”
Agreed — it has turned into quite a crappy season for the Tigers.
Not meeting expectations
By now, midway through the dog days of August, it was expected that the Tigers would have strangled all opposition in the AL Central. They should have been rehearsing for October and the pennant playoffs.
Instead they have been pussyfooting through the summer. Twice now the Royals have overhauled the Tigers.
A runaway has been transformed into a race headed toward the September stretch.
And whoopsie, I discovered this headline the other day in my regular tour of the Internet:
The headline appeared at CBSSports.com over the byline of one Dayn Perry. The headline was considerably stronger than the written words. But still, the ridiculous thought Ausmus might be in jeopardy must have emerged in some sort of pipe dream.
Of course, the geniuses who have ranted in past times about the managerial deficiencies of Sparky and Jim Leyland likely would side with Perry.
My opinion — from my spot a distance away — second place in mid-August for this Detroit ballclub warrants a heavy tongue lashing with usage of Bart Giamatti’s vocabulary.
Under similar circumstances Sparky and Jim would have locked the doors to the clubhouse — and chewed out every individual inside.
Such lashings do work.
Now Ausmus has said that he has talked to his athletes.
But it is time to yell.
And it is the manager’s responsibility to do the yelling — not the second baseman’s. The News’ Chris McCosky reported that Ian Kinsler did lecture to his teammates at the end of a road trip in Pittsburgh earlier this week. The volume and the tone and the content of the actual message were kept secret.
But the obvious guess is that Kinsler delivered a serious critique. He is a veteran of successful pennant races with the Rangers.
All of this is a learning experience for Ausmus. And we do know that he is an intelligent and quick learner.
No shades of ‘84
The ’84 Tigers never displayed any flaws. They were as close to perfection as a baseball club could ever be.
Their descendants 30 years later are flawed. They are hurting.
The best starting pitching staff in Major League Baseball (not the Dodgers) has lost Anibel Sanchez for a while. And perhaps Justin Verlander, who has been troubled, will miss at least a couple of starts — and whose situation, truthfully, is a midsummer mystery.
Topping that, the bullpen awaits a lightning strike from without. Nathan has evolved into another mystery. And the run production has not been what it was supposed to be.
All of those flaws, and it still took a magical surge by the Royals and unexpected flopping by the Tigers to force the change at the top in the AL Central.
No comfort zone this year for the Tigers. But reality is that hocus-pocus eventually runs out. And the team with the superior talent plays in October.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.