For the baseball fan, nothing is crueler than the month of September when your team is hopelessly out of the race.
The game takes on a different, lifeless quality in a meaningless September. The leaves are turning, with their pretty colors nonetheless serving as an ominous warning that another tough winter is behind them.
The games are played because the MLB schedule mandates it, but there is no drama. There isn't a palpable buzz around the ballpark. Even the hot dogs don't taste as good.
The players start to break out the cold weather gear. They blow into their hands more. The temperatures start sinking, making a night at the stadium a cold, and blustery outing. You drink hot chocolate instead of beer or pop.
All of this would be fine if your team was in the hunt. Who wouldn't layer on some clothing if need be, to see a taut game with postseason implications? But when there is nothing to play for, there really isn't anything to root for, either.
The Tigers teams of the early-2000s were some of the most wretched teams in baseball history, let alone in that of the franchise's.
The goal in September in those years was to avoid 100 losses. More often than not, that goal was not reached.
I would wager that none of the current sniping fan base is too young to remember the days of Phil Garner, Luis Pujols, Warren Morris, and Hiram Bocachica.
I never thought I would see the day when a big league baseball team was 80 games under .500, but I did — when the 2003 Tigers were 38-118 at one point.
As Casey Stengel would say, you can look it up.
Sept. 1 is nigh. The Tigers' record at the close of business on Aug. 31 in 2003 was 34-101.
I'll let that sink in for a second.
The question of how grateful the Tigers fans should be in this era of Bengals baseball is a touchy subject. The "World Series or bust" folks will fight you tooth and nail on this.
There have been good stretches throughout franchise history: The first decade of the 20th century, when the team made (and lost) three straight World Series; the period of 1934-1945, when the Tigers won four pennants and two World Series; the decade of the 1960s, which was filled with winning seasons, including a near-pennant in 1967 and the whole enchilada in 1968; the early-1970s (a division title in 1972 and marginal contention in 1971 and ‘73); and the 1980s, in which the Tigers had just one losing season and won a World Series and two division crowns.
The next good stretch of Tigers baseball is the one that's happening now.
Just three years removed from 43-119, the Tigers started something in 2006 that really hasn't been abated.
2008 and 2010 were bummers, but since '06, the Tigers have played in two World Series — one of which was totally unexpected — and have won three straight division titles. They have played 48 postseason games in October (including Game 163 in 2009) starting in '06, winning 24 and losing 24.
You could do worse, Joe Fan.
The reason this is touchy is because success comes in stages.
The first stage is the "we're just happy to be here" stage, which is sort of what 2006 was like. With a new manager and coming off 12 straight losing seasons (1994-2005), who pegged the Tigers to be in the World Series that October?
The next stage is the "let's make some noise in the playoffs because now we feel we belong" stage, which started in 2011 and ran through 2013.
The current stage is the "OK let's win the whole damn thing already" stage, and that's what turns normally reasonable people into frothing at the mouth trolls and bird brains.
Following along on Twitter during a Tigers game in which they're losing is tantamount to being a crisis telephone operator.
The manager should be fired. The hitting coach should be fired. The GM should be fired. Even poor Don Kelly should be fired. The closer should be fired upon.
The wins don't necessarily spawn happy thoughts on Twitter or in the comments sections of the game stories online. The W's are more seen as temporary stays of execution.
To be a Tigers fan, it seems, is to always be waiting for the other spike to drop.
Forget the adage of a baseball season being a marathon. To the Tigers fans, the season is actually made up of 162 sprints.
But I think even old Earl would be aghast at what social media has turned baseball fans into.
I won't directly answer the question of how grateful Tigers fans should be these days, even with such bad baseball of the recent past still fresh in everyone's minds.
But here's an indirect answer: the Chicago Cubs.