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?

2009 Player Profile: Carlos Guillen

Carlos Guillen #9

  • Height: 6′ 1″ | Weight: 215
  • 2008 Stats: .286 – 10 HR – 54 RBI

GuillenHead.jpgYou can’t blame Carlos Guillen if he’d like to forget the 2008 season. After being tapped as the starting first baseman, Guillen lasted there only a few weeks before moving across the diamond to third, where his lack of range became glaringly apparent.

Offensively, though, Guillen put together a solid, if not spectacular first half to ’08 (.284/8/47). Back problems shortened his second half, limiting the Tigers’ All-Star selection to a mere 93 at bats and shelving him altogether after Aug. 25.

A bad back likely is the cause for the dramatic drop off in power numbers from a career-high 21 homers in 2007 to just 10 in ‘08.

The switch-hitting Guillen bats predominately from the left side and has few spots in the strike zone that he can’t handle. Inside pitches – both up and down in the zone – give him trouble but he’s skilled at hitting off-speed pitches, splitters and the fastball. From the right side (just 89 at bats in ’08), Guillen’s hot zone is the heart of the plate.

The Tigers are hoping a move to left field in 2009 will provide relief for Guillen’s back and trigger a return to the production levels he had from 2004 to 2007.

Of course, if the transition to the outfield isn’t the answer, the club could be looking at another Bobby Higginson scenario: a fat investment with meager returns.