TO: Phil Garner, New Tigers Manager

FROM: Me, Old Detroit Columnist

Dear Phil:

Welcome to Detroit. We hope you like it here. We realize it’s not Milwaukee, but on the plus side, it’s not Milwaukee.

In the weeks to come, you’ll learn many wonderful things about our city, our people and our love affair with sports. The good news is we’re crazy about men swinging lumber. The bad news is, I’m talking about hockey players.

But then, you know this already, don’t you? One of your first “official” acts as Detroit’s new baseball manager was to appear at the Hockeytown Cafe. Didn’t see any photos of Hank Aaron there, did you?

Well, Phil — may I call you Phil? “Skipper” seems like something out of
“Gilligan’s Island” — there is a reason we Motor City fans go for pucks over pitches. It’s because, in recent years, Detroit pucks have landed in the back of the net, while Detroit pitches have gone over the wall.

Then again, you knew this, too. You’ve seen our pitchers’ ERA. There are times when the Tigers’ ERA exceeds the NASDAQ composite index.

This can make for some doubting Thomases. And at your inaugural press conference on Thursday, you sensed, in the media’s questions, some skepticism. Sorry. That’s what happens when your franchise hasn’t seen a postseason since the Reagan administration.

“Looks like we got a little hostility working here,” you said.

Oh, no, no, no, Phil, no, really, it’s not hostile, it’s not doubt, not really, well, not in so many words, well, I mean, it’s not …

Yes it is.

Doubt, doubt, doubt. Negative, negative, negative.

But with good reason.

Those were the days

You see, Phil, Detroit used to be a big baseball town. Heck, there was none bigger. In 1984? Baseball was so hot, we nearly burned down the stadium. In 1987? We hung on every pitch — right until the day the Minnesota Twins showed up.

But times change, Phil, and fortunes, like certain pitches, sink. This is a franchise that has finished .500 only twice in the last decade, and has, in that same stretch, had two seasons with more than 100 losses.

But then, you know about losses, too, right? You didn’t exactly have a great run in Milwaukee. True, you had enthusiastic teams, and players who gave their all. But in the end, they dropped more than they took, didn’t they?

In fact, you’re coming off seven straight losing seasons in Milwaukee. In most markets, that’s not exactly a star on the resume. In Detroit, you’re hailed for your consistency.

“Hey,” you told me Thursday, laughing, “if I hadn’t lost all those games in Milwaukee, I wouldn’t be available for this job.”

Now that’s what I call lemons to lemonade, Phil. And that’s a good quality to have around here, because, well, frankly, there may be lemons for a while. I’m sure, in wooing you, the Tigers made this seem like the greatest opportunity in the world. In some ways, it is.

But in other ways, well, you have your work cut out for you. And so, because you seem like a straightforward guy, I’m going to give you the straight poop, the pluses and minuses of becoming the 33rd Tigers manager this century — and the third in three years.

On the plus side and downside

On the plus side, some fans will be glad the previous manager, Larry Parrish, is gone.

On the downside, many fans didn’t know Larry Parrish was here.

On the plus side, you’ll have former Tigers like Alan Trammell to hire as coaches.

On the downside, many fans think Trammell is still the shortstop.

On the plus side, you won’t be playing in Tiger Stadium.

On the downside, you won’t be playing in Tiger Stadium.

On the plus side, you’ll be in a brand-new facility, with overstuffed food stands and souvenir booths.

On the downside, people may be coming more for the food and souvenirs than the game.

On the plus side, you have some young pitchers with promise.

On the downside, that’s not a new promise.

On the plus side, you have Brad Ausmus, the team’s MVP.

On the downside, your GM already traded him away once.

On the plus side, in Detroit, losses don’t end with fans booing.

On the downside, it’s because they’ve left by the seventh inning.

On the plus side, you’ve got a nice new park to boost your offense.

On the downside, the other team gets to hit, too.

On the plus side, your owner knows he has to spend money on players.

On the downside, many of those players wear skates.

So there you have it, Phil. Could be a dream job. New team, new town, new stadium, no place to go but up.

As you said, “This is a perfect opportunity.”

On the downside, the last two managers said that, too.

Call if you need anything.

Especially pitching.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Today’s guests include Sissy Spacek and Joe Torre. Also listen to “Monday Sports Albom,” 6:30-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.

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