The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians are two of the original eight charter franchises in the American League, which was founded in 1901. Four of those eight clubs are still playing in the same city, Chicago and Boston being the other two.
For 113 years, the two teams have been playing baseball, and playing each other ad nauseum, every summer. The Tigers have played 17,658 games, the Indians 17,631. Detroit has won 8,921 games and Cleveland 8,927 games. They've both hit .266 in their franchise history. And, get this, the Tigers have amassed a total of 16,005 hits to the Indians’ 16,004 since 1901, according to baseball reference.
With the exception of four seasons from 1994-97, the two clubs have been in the same division. Yet, there’s no real rivalry between the two teams.
This is Michigan and Ohio we’re talking about here. The two cities are just 160 miles apart. We should be at each others’ throats, but it’s like, "Ho- hum, we’re playing the Indians again for the 19th time this season." Where's the passion?
The reason for the lack of any passionate rivalry has got to be the fact that the two teams have no real history of playing each other with everything on the line for both sides, and they’ve obviously never met in the playoffs.
Only five times in their entire history have the Tigers and the Indians finished first and second in the same season. Even in those five seasons, there wasn’t really a hard-fought pennant race. In fact, this season will be the closest that the two clubs have finished atop the standings in over 100 years.
In 2011, the Tigers won the division by 15 games, and the Indians were a distant second, with a losing record. In 2007, the Tribe won the division and the Tigers finished second, eight games back. That was the only time Cleveland finished first and Detroit second in their entire history. When Cleveland had a run in the late 90's, winning five division titles along with a couple of seconds, the Tigers were below .500 every season. When the Tigers were strong in the 80's, the Indians finished sixth or seventh out of seven every year. The only thing the two teams have competed for on occasion was a better draft pick.
Only twice during the entire 20th century did the Tigers and Indians finish first and second. In 1940, the Tigers won the pennant by one game over the Indians. Hal Newhouser and Bob Feller would have been fun to watch. The other time was in 1908, when Ty Cobb led the Detroit to their second pennant by half a game over Cleveland. The Tigers played one fewer game than Cleveland that season, when teams didn’t all play exactly the same number of games.
Naturally, when the Tigers were trying to win a division title this season, and their magic number dropped every time the second place Indians lost, I would root for Cleveland to lose. But it wasn’t out of any ill will toward the Tribe. I just wanted the Tigers to win the division. It's not like they're the Twins, or the White Sox, or even the Royals of September.
Now that the Tigers are in and the Indians are fighting for their playoff lives, I find myself rooting for them. There are several reasons for this, so here they are, Letterman style.
TEN REASONS TO ROOT FOR THE INDIANS TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
10. They’re playing the damn Twins this weekend!
9. Sheer sympathy. Cleveland hasn’t won a World Series since Harry Truman was President
8. The Tigers beat the Indians 15 out of 19 games this season. Bring em on!
7. If Cleveland wins, the Rangers will be eliminated
6. If the Tigers are playing Cleveland Detroit gets home field advantage
5. Chris Perez
4. So we can see another Boston beatdown before Halloween
3. Bob Feller hated pitch counts, too
2. Nobody goes to their games, so Tiger fans can make the short drive and fill the stadium
1. It would be cool to have a rivalry since we’ve got to play them 19 times every season