The Tigers employ the best player in baseball---a two-time defending league MVP. They have the reigning Cy Young Award winner. They have a player who was both a Cy Young winner and an MVP just three years ago.
Over the winter, the Tigers signed an all-world closer. They have a perennial .300 hitter as a full-time DH. There's a new second baseman that can hit, field and run. The starting rotation is to die for. There's dynamic talent up and down the roster, some of it young and ready to break out.
Yet the key to the Tigers ending their 30-year World Series championship drought is a man who never played an inning of pro baseball.
Dave Dombrowski wasn't like the other boys in eighth grade.
The words are right before me as I write this, black ink on white magazine paper. They were spoken by Dombrowski in an interview with Motor City Sports Magazine in the February 2007 issue---the Detroit sports publication for which I served as editor-in-chief.
"In eighth grade this girl was doing a paper," Dombrowski told our writer Josh Bartlett. "The topic was, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?' Everyone would say they wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist. And she said, ‘Dave, what do you want to be?' And I said, ‘I want to be the general manager of a Major League Baseball team.'"
So while most boys grabbed a bat in the backyard and pantomimed an at-bat in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, imagining winning the ring with a walk-off home run, Dave Dombrowski dreamed of, well, something different.
"Of course I had no idea what the role of general manager really was at that point," Dombrowski, the Tigers President, CEO and GM, told Bartlett seven years ago. "So, as I went to college I went there thinking, ‘OK, how do I get to be the general manager of a Major League Baseball Club?'"
After graduating from Western Michigan University, Dombrowski worked his way toward his goal, starting in the Chicago White Sox organization as a 22-year-old in 1978.
Thirty-six years later, Dombrowski finds himself where he has wanted to be since the eighth grade. It's safe to say that he knows what the role of general manager is now.
Part of it is living for situations like the one currently facing the Tigers, this team of so much championship potential that is in desperate need of a life preserver that only a slick GM can toss it.
There's a gaping hole in left field, with the left-handed hitting half of the planned platoon, Andy Dirks, out for at least three months after back surgery.
These are moments that men like Dombrowski seize.
It is as plain as the nose on everyone's face that the Tigers simply cannot move forward with Rajai Davis---bless his can't-hit-right-handers heart---and the flavor of the day in left field. Not for three months.
So the Tigers look to Dombrowski, once again, to fix things.
He hasn't been perfect, but he's been right far more often than not.
Dombrowski has been down this road before. The left field situation, you could say, is his mulligan.
It was just last year when Dombrowski miscalculated the readiness of Bruce Rondon to be the caretaker of the ninth inning. Dombrowski cashiered Jose Valverde after a horrific 2012 post-season, and put all his closer eggs in the Rondon basket.
Those eggs crashed to the ground.
Dombrowski botched the closer situation last year, getting bailed out temporarily by Joaquin Benoit, only to see the Tigers' lack of a true closer bite the team in the you-know-where in the ALCS.
Now here comes left field, and you can bet that the GM won't rely on internal patches this time. There's too much at stake, as there always is when your team is dancing on the experts' lips as a possible world champion.
Dombrowski loves this stuff. This is his at-bat that he imagined as an eighth grader. This is what a general manager of a Major League Baseball team does.
Tigers fans waiting for the other cleat to drop in left field likely won't have to wait long.
Dombrowski isn't about to jeopardize his team's fortunes by leaving left field twisting in the breeze.
Far be it from me to toss out names of possible replacements for Dirks. You can read that speculation elsewhere, and probably already have.
What I do know is that Dave Dombrowski is now a pig in slop.
He has a hole to plug and the filler isn't on the Tigers' 40-man roster this morning. The GM is going to have to work the phones. These are the situations that he began dreaming of as an adolescent boy, when his playmates were busy playing pitcher's mound, right field is out and using grocery bags as bases filled with imaginary runners.
So please stand by, because the GM is working on something.
Because that's what GMs do.