In 2006, the Detroit Tigers were perennial losers. (You all know the story, so I won't rehash it.)
But then Jim Leyland came on board. Among the countless ways his new leadership provided an improved team attitude was his ability to garner respect. He made you want to play for him. He was not afraid to get in your face. In short, he didn't want any of your weak shit.
That year, the Tigers started 5-0 -- winning most of those games handily -- but then they started to slide. It was what fans, and even players, had come to expect from a Tigers team -- but not Leyland. After a 10-2 loss at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, Leyland unleashed a fury in a closed-door team meeting. This type of play would no longer fly, and we wanted to make damn sure every member of the 2006 Detroit Tigers knew it.
After the meeting he told reporters, "We stunk and that’s not good enough. This stuff has been going on here before and it’s not going to happen here. We had a chance to take a series. I’m not talking about anyone in particular. I’m talking about the team, myself, the coaches, and everybody else included. It’s my responsibility to have the team ready to play today, and they weren't ready to play. They were ready to get on the plane and go to Oakland. If they won it was okay and if they lost it was okay. That’s not good enough."
Fast forward to 2014. The Tigers are once again under a new manager -- this one, a little more laid back than Leyland. And while the team no longer considers themselves losers, they appear to have reached a difficult crossroads. Manager Brad Ausmus may not be the in-your-face type of presence that Leyland was. I’m not sure if this club even needs that. But, maybe they do.
I do not doubt for even a second that Ausmus isn't in each and every Tiger player’s ear. He may not do it with as much vitriol or as many expletives, but he has their attention. Apparently he addressed the team Sunday, but they took another 10-0 drubbing on Monday. Whatever was said -- and little information exists about that -- did not seem to work.
So, is it time for Ausmus to take off the good-guy mask, if he didn't do that already? The roster is full of veterans --Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera -- who have experience settling a locker room, too. It may be time to lean a little extra on them.
After sweeping the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, the Tigers stood alone atop the major leagues with a 27-12 record. They looked unbeatable. Since then, they have lost seven of their last eight games, and the losses have not been pretty: 9-2, 12-2, 12-4, and most recently 10-0. Justin Verlander, Drew Smyly, and Max Scherzer have all been bombed, and the offense has gone stone cold. Remember just a few weeks ago when Hunter and Austin Jackson were both hitting over .300?
So, is it time to panic? Absolutely not. But, it is time for the Tigers to take an introspective look at the type of baseball they're playing and make strides toward righting the ship. And maybe get in some players' faces.
In 2006, a losing streak helped define what type of team the Detroit Tigers would be for the remainder of the season. In 2014, let’s hope we see the same result.