by | Oct 1, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

On Sunday, as thousands of football fans made their way to Ford Field, they stopped to look at Comerica Park. Some peered inside. Some studied the iron work. All seemed to smile and nod, proud of this little architectural corner of our city.

But there was no team playing inside. And here’s the really bad news:

It didn’t make a difference.

Detroit has become a stadium town rather than a baseball town. Our best attribute is bricks and grass. The team isn’t worth your attention.

So the news Monday that the Tigers fired their manager, Luis Pujols, barely inspired a yawn. What else are you going to do with a manager who loses 100 games? Make him president?

Pujols’ embarrassing record gets lopped onto the 0-6 that Phil Garner started the season with — before getting canned in the opening week — making for a grand total of 55-106, or nearly twice as many defeats as victories.

In addition to those stellar numbers, we had a team that led the American League in errors, had the league’s fewest runs, had players dropping balls they ought to catch, missing pitches they ought to hit, and a front office that shipped its most promising arm to the team that needed it least, the Yankees. Players revolted in the media, the team president ripped his squad in a not-so-private luncheon, and virtually every player who escaped this mess sounded like the guy who washes up on shore after a jailbreak from Alcatraz.

Last week, the Tigers actually surrendered three runs in one inning with no hits — just three walks and two errors.

In August, they batted out of order.

I still haven’t given you the really bad news.

“Will you be signing major free agents in the off-season?” someone asked Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski at Monday’s news conference.

“No,” he said, “I’m more interested in trying to get our foundation fixed.”

You can jump out the window now.

Baseball without Ernie

Foundation? Where? What? Who? The great farm system? The nine promising youngsters? This franchise has been so upside down, you don’t even know where the floor is. But you do know this: In today’s game, if you try to grow your team from seeds, you’re going to be staring at the ground for a long time. The Yankees had to sign Jason Giambi in the off-season just to stay abreast — and they already had the best roster.

Which means the Tigers, and their nickel-watching ways, don’t plan on being competitive any time soon. And if they can’t compete, who’s going to watch? It’s not like this just started. They haven’t been to the playoffs in 15 years, the World Series in 18 years — heck, they haven’t had a winning season in nearly a decade.

The continuing ineptitude has melted what used to be a fierce and massive enthusiasm for baseball into a sad, small devoted group of followers, who wait each spring for Ernie Harwell’s voice to jump-start the season.

Of course, Ernie is gone now, too.

I have, however, finally figured something out. Ernie began every year with a Biblical quote about “the voice of the turtle.” And in studying Tigers management, I now realize why he chose that animal.

A voice from the past

“I’m not going to place the blame on anybody,” Dombrowski said. “We all share in it equally. . . . We don’t have a good club. We need to build it back.”

Without buying players, he can forget that. But for putting people in the seats, the Tigers could do worse than hiring Alan Trammell, who is the San Diego Padres’ first-base coach. I have no idea if Trammell can manage. Neither does anyone else, since being a first-base coach is more about telling a guy to steal second than it is deciding on a pitching staff.

But Trammell at least makes people feel good. He is a face from a time when baseball actually counted around here. More than anything, the Tigers need to rekindle that.

I travel regularly to New York. I read the newspapers there. I talk to fans on the street. You hear them arguing over who should be batting cleanup for the Yankees or Mets, who’s better out of the bullpen, whether this guy should DH or that guy should play the field. And you realize we haven’t heard those discussions in this city in a long, long time.

They fired the manager Monday — and people were still talking about the Lions. That should worry the Tigers. Baseball shouldn’t be some museum you pass on the way to a football game.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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