September 17th, 2011
So we learned Friday night how manager Jim Leyland attached a little personal satisfaction to the Tigers’ AL Central title, because of the criticism that he took and the speculation early on that he wouldn’t be back next season. Saturday morning was the first chance for team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski to talk since the Tigers clinched Friday night. He wouldn’t go that far.
To him, it comes with the territory. He seemed to take offense to how few pundits and experts had predicted this summer that the Tigers would take over this division, but he didn’t make much of his own situation. The flip side of that, though, is that he didn’t try to take too much credit for all the July trades that worked out in the Tigers’ favor and helped turn them from a contending club into a division champion.
“Do I feel vindicated? Do I feel this? Do I feel that? No,” Dombrowski said, “but I think it’s a situation where it just kind of speaks to how delicate a situation it can be, what a balancing act it is. And you have to make the moves that you think are the right ones. And if you don’t, I think the worst thing you can do [is nothing] — because I’ve seen general managers do this — where all of a sudden they won’t pull the trigger because when they pull the trigger everybody’s on top of them, and then they end up eventually losing their jobs.
“Everybody’s going to make a trade that doesn’t work. Everybody’s going to make a decision that doesn’t work, if you make enough of them, because it’s not a scientific formula. … I think you do all your homework beforehand, but if you’re afraid to pull the trigger, you’re going to be in trouble. You’re not going to be successful. That’s just the way it is. And if you think that every one of them’s going to work, you’re going to be wrong. And you also have to understand there’s criticism that’s attached.”
Dombrowski used 2008 as an example, from the Edgar Renteria trade from Atlanta to the Jacque Jones deal with the Cubs, among others.
“We had a bad year in 2008, and everybody in the world picked us to win,” Dombrowski said. “We didn’t have the Midas touch that year. We made some moves that didn’t work out, and I know I scratched my head that wintertime and looked at those inside and out on why those things happened the way they did and we had meetings on it and discussed it inside and out.”
A year later, he said, they had a better year and contended, and they tried to bolster their case at the trade deadline. They thought they had. So did everybody else.
“To this day, in 2009, when we acquired Jarrod Washburn, I cannot tell you how happy I was and everybody in the organization was, and I remember how everybody praised it to the hilt,” Dombrowski said. “And it didn’t work. That’s why it’s a humbling game sometimes.”
He looked over that deal, no doubt, just as he did with the trade that brought them Aubrey Huff from Baltimore. Washburn had a knee injury that didn’t allow him to pitch down the stretch, when they were struggling to hold on. Huff didn’t work out for performance.
In either case, Dombrowski said, they try to break down the deals and pinpoint what went wrong. Sometimes, he said, it isn’t anything.
“Whose fault is it? Is it yours, that you acquired the guy? Is it the scouts that recommended him? Is it the manager who writes him in the lineup? Is it the players around him? Is it the player’s fault? I’ve never really figured that one out,” Dombrowski said, “because when you make the move, it’s the time where it’s the move to make. And it’s not like you don’t do your homework.
“So it’s a humbling game, and I think as a general manager, when you’re in that position, you just have to make moves and you have to do them the best you possibly can.”
Dombrowski pointed to the Curtis Granderson three-team trade as a rare example of a trade that worked out for all teams involved. The Tigers have clinched a postseason spot. The Yankees and Diamondbacks aren’t far behind.
“And every one of the guys [in the deal] are key guys,” Dombrowski said. “And I’m glad that the guys we traded are doing well, that Curtis is doing well and of course Edwin Jackson brought [Daniel] Hudson in return [for Arizona in another trade]. But our guys have done very well for us, too, and have been integral parts of why we’ve won.”
So have the deals Dombrowski worked out this summer, from the Wilson Betemit deal with Kansas City to the Doug Fister acquisition at the Trade Deadline and the Delmon Young trade with Minnesota last month.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Dombrowski said. “If you think that [they all work], as soon as you think that, you’re going to get smacked down. If somebody in the game thinks they’re better than someone else, boom, it ultimately hits them right between the eyes. And any success that I would have is attributed to the people in the organization — having good scouts, having good people around, having guys like Al Avila and John Westhoff and Scott Reid and David Chadd and Dan Lunetta and those groups and all our Major League scouts. Those are the ones that make us successful.”
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez both went to Jim Leyland in the midst of last night’s celebration and said they wanted to be in the lineup Saturday. And they are. Alex Avila is not, though he didn’t ask off. Omir Santos gets the start behind the plate, while Danny Worth gets his first start at second since he was recalled from Toledo.
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Magglio Ordonez, RF
- Ryan Raburn, LF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Brandon Inge, 3B
- Danny Worth, 2B
- Omir Santos, C
P: Rick Porcello
- Jemile Weeks, 2B
- Coco Crisp, CF
- Hideki Matsui, DH
- Josh Willingham, LF
- David DeJesus, RF
- Cliff Pennington, SS
- Brandon Allen, 1B
- Kurt Suzuki, C
- Scott Sizemore, 3B
P: Gio Gonzalez
To get an idea what this division title means for Miguel Cabrera, it’s best to think back to two years ago.
When the Tigers lost the tiebreaker that year, Cabrera sat in the clubhouse, his back hunched over, and cried openly. He felt like he had cost the team the division, a feeling more rooted in emotion than in fact. It took a bevy of teammates to console him.
As the Tigers celebrated Friday night, spraying champagne around the plastic-wrapped front half of the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum, Cabrera sat away from the crowd on the opposite side, watching it all as he puffed on a cigar and drank from a bottle of water. He had a look of pure contentment. He didn’t partake in the champagne, obviously, but he wasn’t partying regardless. He was soaking it all in.
“I have four years right now in Detroit,” he said. “Finally, we win the division. We’re here for this, man, to win. You have to give a lot of thanks to our owner, to our general manager. They put a lot of great guys here together. We finally made it, man.”
Just hours earlier, manager Jim Leyland said Cabrera was playing these days with more energy than he’s had all year. Cabrera didn’t argue. It’s the chance at the playoffs, he said, that brought it out of him. He hadn’t been to the postseason since he was a 20-year-old rookie with the 2003 Marlins. He badly wanted to get back, and he played like it.
When Cabrera caught Brandon Inge’s throw across the infield to retire Jose Willingham for the game’s final out Friday night, everyone was waiting to see how Jose Valverde would celebrate a title. Cabrera quietly made a sign and pointed to the sky to thank god.
“I feel great, man. I feel great. I’m happy,” Cabrera said. “We’re here for the fans, for the owner, for the general manager, for our manager. It feels awesome. It feels awesome we come through for our owner. We have a long way to go right now. We have to just keep playing hard. We have to keep winning and try to be ready for the playoffs.”
He was one of several already thinking to the playoffs. Justin Verlander was another. But he was one of many whose sustained intensity in September helped the Tigers get to this piont, clinching so soon.
Still, once they got here, he let everyone else act crazy. He just sat back and watched.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “We know we have a good team. We battled all year. We know we can win the division, and we did it. We always play hard. It feels awesome, man.”
While the Tigers made a champagne-soaked, cigar-smelling mess of the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum, Jim Leyland was tucked away in the manager’s office, enjoying a cigar he received from closer Jose Valverde. He had his hugs from players and coaches, and he got his share from champagne spray from Carlos Guillen, Phil Coke and others.
“There was a bunch of them that nailed me,” he said.
But there in his office, with the Tigers’ first division title since 1987 now official, Leyland got a little vindication, too. And he wasn’t shy talking about it.
He looked back in amazement at what they had done, not just over the last two weeks, but over the last 4 1/2 months. They were eight games behind the Indians on May 3, and they’re up 13 1/2 games now, a 21 1/2-game turn over the course of 121 games. They went from questions whether they were already out of the division race to becoming the first team to clinch a division title this year.
And Leyland went from a manager on the speculative hot seat to a potential AL Manager of the Year candidate.
“I’m an emotional guy. We all know that,” Leyland said. “I have a very special satisfaction, personally, for obvious reasons. Probably lot of people didn’t think I’d be managing the Tigers next year at the start of the season.”
Leyland managed this season in the final year of his contract without any guarantee of an extension coming. He and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski were under pressure to win now. When they got off to a sub-.500 start, the questions rose whether he would make it.
As mentioned, they’ve outplayed everyone else in the division by far since then, including the longest streak by a Tigers team since 1934. And several players credited Leyland’s drive with turning this into such a long streak.
“Skip’s been saying, ‘Keep your foot on the pedal, on the gas pedal and keep going at the end,” Brandon Inge said. “That’s honestly what everyone’s done. You’ve got to admire the focus that everyone’s had here coming down the stretch. Just watching Miggy, Peralta, Victor, all those guys. They just kept going and kept going and never let off. Even when you have a big lead sometimes, you tend to let up. They kept going. Those guys are unbelievable.”
So did Leyland. Friday was a chance for him to take pride in the fact that he’s still standing.
“I’ve been around a long time. I don’t think any one is more special than any other. But you always find a reason to make this one special,” Leyland said. “This one’s special for me for personal reasons.”
He was then asked whether he wanted to show something to the baseball world.
“I don’t think I want to show the baseball world,” Leyland said. “I’m just glad I’m managing the Tigers next year, when probably a lot of people thought I wouldn’t be here. It sounds kind of selfish, and maybe it is, but that’s why it’s personal.”