September 22, 2012

Is Detroit Still a Great Baseball Town?

With the Tigers marching toward three million in attendance for 2012, this might seem more than borderline preposterous. But stick with me.

I lobbed a tweet last week about how Tigers fans are coming unglued online and on the air. I could even take it a step further and suggest the faithful are assuming the personality traits – obsession, paranoia, rage – of Yankees fans.

Last Thursday morning, listening to Power Alley on MLB Network Radio, a Tigers fan called in to rail on Joaquin Benoit and how he just can’t be trusted, Leyland shouldn’t use him in the 8th inning anymore. Why? Well, he allowed four runs to score in an 8-6 win over the White Sox. And, well, because.

Hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette politely disagreed that Benoit was a problem – much less the problem, as the caller also suggested – and that in fact he’d been quite good of late and for the majority of the season. They acknowledged his stretch of surrendering home runs (looking at you, Taylor Teagarden) but that he’s certainly not someone about whom Tigers fans should waste energy.

This is just one example. Since April, Tigers fans have been scorching Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde and, of course, Jim Leyland*.

*Recently Reds GM Walt Jocketty was on Power Alley and he answered a question from the hosts about Dusty Baker‘s approach to resting players throughout the season, even into September. Jocketty defended his manager and talked about how the great managers know who needs a rest and when – and how this can payoff late in the season. He mentioned Leyland by name as another skipper who knows when to give his players a day off. Then he said something like, “I heard on this show a Tigers fan was complaining about Jim Leyland resting players. Jim’s one of the best in the game at this and I can’t believe they’re complaining about it.”

How did this happen? Is it all because of pre-season expectations and the season drawing to a close? Is it the number of outlets fans have to air even the flimsiest arguments? Yes to both, I think.

I acknowledge this is likely coming across as Old Man Thinking and to some degree it is. What’s really puzzling to me is that Detroit has a reputation as being a great baseball town. And it is.

Or it was. Right now, I’m not so sure.

I’ve never witnessed such vitriol being sprayed in so many places against a manager and his players – ever. Fans are treating Leyland like they do their political villain of choice. (Two years ago I wrote my case for Leyland and stand by it today.) It wasn’t long ago that the Tigers had managers the likes of Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish and, inexplicably, Luis Pujols. People: Luis Pujols.

Granted, you could argue (and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you) that the days of Bell, Parrish and Pujols were dreadful seasons in which most Tigers fans were apathetic at best. But people still went to the games, followed the team and called into the sports talk shows to complain about Bobby Higginson. Some people cared … but not many, and not much. But still.

Does all the moaning and groaning mean Tigers fans are as engaged as ever? Or does it mean Detroit has lost its collective mind when it comes to baseball and the expectations of a team that, for an enternity, was an embarrassment?

What do you think?

13 Comment(s)

  1. James Rosenberger | Sep 22, 2012 | Reply

    A great baseball town after all these years. The fans are coming “unglued” because they love their team and they realize that the chemistry is wrong. They recognize a lack of leadership on the field and in the dugout. They know that this team could, and should, do a lot better.

  2. Brendan | Sep 22, 2012 | Reply

    Baseball fans in Detroit get mad at the smalles things. “Why didn’t we win this game? Why are they keeping leyland? Why is Jose still on the team”. Trust me I live in the suburbs of Detroit and I know. They tune into 97.1 the ticket and just bi***. I still think we are the best baseball town, but fans here are so cynical of this team. I blame the journalist and espn of why these fans are so wound up. They overrated this tram and put tremendous expectations on this team. Fans just need to go to the games and stop complaining. They are the best fans, but they bit** too much

  3. Andrew | Sep 22, 2012 | Reply

    First off, most people are idiots (certainly a higher % of talk radio callers). But for the smarter fanz flipping out this year, I agree with James. It’s disappointment. This has been a tremendously frustrating season. Any fan will acknowledge that and especially the most diehard. I love the Tigers. I’ve even been Stockholm syndrome’d into liking Delmon. But this season has run its course on fans. Also a theory, as baseball fans, our disgust for bad defense is pretty venemoua

  4. Scott | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    This is something that I’ve been noticing for years and in the end I think we do have lousy baseball fans in Detroit. But I think that the Tigers are the ones to blame. In 2006 when we started getting good again and started getting fans again, I was surprised at the lack of baseball knowledge of all the new found fans. I chalked it up to the fact that the team had been not just bad, but almost historically bad for the previous 15 years and everyone stopped paying attention to them. In that 15 years time baseball went on strike, the Red Wings and Pistons won championships, and football in my opinion had grown to be America’s favorite sport. So no one paid attention to baseball in Detroit, a whole generation of kids grew up with it being meaningless, and the fair weather fan base forgot what baseball is all about. Baseball is a game of failure, great hitters fail 7 out of 10 times and great teams lose 4 out of 10 games. With sports radio and the internet fans also have a much louder voice than they did 15-20 years ago, back then the only people that would hear the naysayers were their friends and family, now they have many outlets to get their points across. I’m also appalled by the lack of baseball knowledge of our local sports radio hosts, one bad game and the seasons over type attitude. It doesn’t help that one of the loudest and possibly most popular hosts is a yankees fan and brings that culture to Detroit. But in the end if the Tigers had been at least competitive in the 15-20 years leading up to 2006, their fans might understand how difficult it is to be good.

    Sorry to be so long winded, but to get one final point across about the subject, “Andrew” in the comment above mine mentions our “our disgust for bad defense”, which I have one quick note supplied by Baseball-reference.com.
    2012 Detroit Tigers-91 errors
    1984 Detroit Tigers-127 errors

    Same game, different world, different fans.

  5. TJ Kenny | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    I think it has more to do with the sign of the times. People want instant gratification. They have little or no patients for anything more. We live on fast food, instant coffee, microwaved meals, and if something is not working right we throw it away and buy a new one instead of getting it fixed. We even do that with our relationships and marriages. Why would you think we would have any loyalty to our teams? Sometimes it is better to have low expectations like Cub fans. Then you do not have to go through all the vitriol when they do not live up to expectations.

  6. David | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    When you spend 214 million on someones contract while a large number of people in this state have been stricken by the economy comments about frustration are going to happen. We all still love the Tigs. If we werent fighting to take the AL central at the end of the season it just wouldnt be right!

  7. Duber | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    I just think that the most vocal people tend to be the biggest idiots. The season has been frustrating because they are constantly losing on the road. If you’re gonna gripe with Leyland, this is your gripe. I think he does a fine job with the cards he is dealt. They have a lot of lame duck players; players that can’t run, play defense, hit about .260 with weak power numbers. They sacrificed the defense to add Prince fielder and that defensive sacrifice will only be worth it once they get Victor Martinez back next season. Whatever they do this year is a bonus. I certainly want to see them in the playoffs, if they get in anything can happen, but I realize next year is the year.

  8. rshetts | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    If youre going to use the internet and talk radio call ins as your barometer and not expect over the top vitriol, you are clueless about both medias. To make a judgement like that based on forums where anonymity rules and common sense is thrown out the window, is flawed from the very start. Its true that most feel that the Tigers have underachieved and when you look at their starting rotation and batting line ups you wonder how this team isnt pushing for 100 wins. Then you look at the flawed defense and the less then stellar bullpen and understanding sets in. The Tigers are an excellent team with some obvious flaws but they are also a team with a possible triple crown candidate, two starters who should be in the Cy Young conversation and are playing for a division title. And this is with one of the best hitters in baseball out for the season. This is a solid franchise and most fans understand that. For those few very vocal raving madmen, well passion for the sport sometimes gets the better of them but they dont speak for the entire Tiger fan base.

  9. Nate | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    We traded Brandon Inge before the season started…

  10. Mike McClary | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    Thanks for the comment. The Tigers released Inge on April 26, after he’d appeared in nine games and hit .100. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/i/ingebr01.shtml

  11. Kurt | Sep 23, 2012 | Reply

    The stadium was mighty empty during at least one or two of the games during the final home stand of a team gunning for its second division title. One does have to wonder.

  12. Matt | Sep 24, 2012 | Reply

    Not really. Too many of the fans are fans of winning, not fans of baseball. I get the impression that fans think it’s way easier than it is, and that the players just show up at 6:30 for a 7:05 game and have no idea the amount of time these players and coaches spend (and are well compensated for) at their craft. I also get think that too many of the fans are football fans first and think that things like yelling, making faces, and clapping real loud make a difference. This is baseball. You can’t do better just by hitting the guy across from you a little bit harder. The fans want to win, but lack understanding of what goes into it and just how difficult it is.

  13. Andrew | Sep 24, 2012 | Reply

    I apologize for my ignorance of the 1984 season, because I was born in 1985. I don’t think that makes me any less of an intelligent baseball fan though. I can’t speak to the defensive prowess of the 1984 team.

    However, I think any intelligent baseball fan will agree that a defense discussion should begin, end, or rely on the error stat. We would all agree that the defense in yesterday’s first game was unacceptable despite the team only being charged 1 error. Bad defense =/= errors.

    But since it was brought up, let’s examine the error stat. Comparing the numbers wholesale is pointless. Averages provide a measuring stick to compare the two teams. The average for errors in 1984 was 135.6/team. With the 2012 season coming to a close, the average is at 94.3. So obviously comparing the 1984 to 2012 stat straight up means nothing. It does show that the game has changed, whether fielders are truly making less errors or scorer’s have gotten more forgiving. The only assumption you can make based on those numbers is that the Tigers were slightly better than average in regards to committing errors in both years.

    Looking at something like Baseball-Reference’s Defensive Efficiency stat is interesting though. In 1984, the Tigers came in 4th. This year, we’re only better than 3 teams.

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