Tigers bandwagon on verge of breakdown, disappointment
September 18, 2006 —
I promised myself I wouldn't do it. I knew it made a mockery out of my sports principles. But succumbing to the whims of peer pressure, I threw my hesitations aside, and took that fateful step into the abyss.
Since then, the Detroit Tigers have reverted to pre-2006 form. Ever since I became a committed fan of the Tigers for the first time in my life, on approximately Aug. 1, they have played sub-Kansas City Royals baseball. Their commanding eight and a half game lead on Aug. 11 has withered away quicker than Ben Wallace's popularity.
That's the thing about bandwagons - as soon as enough people jump on, they inevitably break down. The Tigers are succumbing to the pressure of two decades' worth of fan frustration. The stores can't keep Tigers merchandise stocked, which leads to my prediction that in three years, you'll see an abundance of Tigers tees at your local Goodwill.
Do I feel like the bastard who broke the bandwagon's axle? Not really. I've managed to escape fads most of my life - minus the rampant bowl cuts of mid-90's and the yo-yo craze of 1998 - but as far as sports go, I'm a relative neophyte to the bandwagoning. Even if the bottom falls out on their season, Detroit still fielded among the most competitive teams in three of the four major sports, the Lions, of course, being the exception to the rule. This will be a season to remember in Tigers history; either it's the year they returned to peak form, or the year they choked it all away.
Growing up in the wasteland of major league baseball makes it difficult to decide on a favorite team. The Lions may stink, but at least I can reminisce about the Scott Mitchell era that lasted all of 1995. Prior to this season, the last Tigers story I played close attention to was whether or not Jeremy Bonderman would lose 20 games in 2003 (alas, he finished with 19 losses).
Before 2006, the Tigers front office was firmly in the Matt Millen camp of management - spend a lot of money on unproven rookies, overpay for decaying veterans, and hire a genial coach who stands back as the team chemistry is destroyed from within by massive egos.
Lo and behold, the Tigers have discovered that the Lions' management style is nothing to emulate, proving that a team that has accomplished little in the previous two decades should not emulate a team that has accomplished less in the previous five decades. And they've started winning games as a result.
The 2006 Tigers have been a motley crew of aberrations (the oft-injured Magglio Ordonez remaining healthy), alcoholics (the recently released Dmitri Young), and ashtrays (the chain-smoking Jim Leyland). They have accomplished it by pitching a major league-leading team ERA, playing solid defense, and getting clutch hitting.
I may be trampled when fair-weather Michiganders return to their comfortable confines as fans of the Lovable Losers, Red Sox Nation, or whatever the flavor of the month is, but I'll stay on board. If the ship is sinking, I have a life vest, and will continue to stay above water. The life vest is optimism; it breeds eternal hope that if the Tigers can turn their fortune around, anyone can. Except the Lions.
If the Tigers managed to choke their way out of the playoffs, I can say to future generations, "I saw the spirit of Detroit come alive in the Tigers in '06." Congratulations Detroit, you have earned yourself a true fan.
By making it so the summer months are filled with more than NASCAR races Friday through Sunday, you have my loyalty. With all of the half-hearted fan support out there, consider that a bonus, or, at the very least, a ploy to get me to buy merchandise even when you suck.
Now get to the playoffs, or I am SO a Twins fan.