The 2006 October-Surprise Detroit Tigers
If this seasons Detroit Tigers wins the World Series, it may be the most unusual club to do so. Their run through the regular season and playoffs has brought unusual drama to the sport.
How can a team stampede toward the World Series only three years after compiling the 2nd worst record in Major League Baseball history? Even a year ago the team lost 19 more games than it won. It would be different if the Tigers spent mega-millions for several stud players before the season, but - no. This baseball team somehow wins without a bonafide superstar.
This year Detroit charged to one of the best starts in history, winning 76 of their first 112 games - then, finished the season by winning only 19 of the final 50 contests. After losing their last five games of the regular season and getting thrashed by the Yankees in their first playoff game, the Tigers seemed to be barely breathing. Yet, they havent lost since.
Playing in one of the largest and most difficult stadiums to homer, the Tigers are a free-swinging club that hits too many fly outs to seemingly be effective in the cavernous Comerica Park. It would have been smarter to construct this team to play small-ball - a speedy club that hits line-drives into the gaps provided by such a big park. Against all such wisdom, the Tigers batters prefer to swing hard for the distant fences.
For all of the above reasons, few predicted that the Tigers would dominate the Yankees and their vaunted All-Star lineup in the first round of the playoffs - but they did. The entire sports world expected New York to treat Detroit like the Junior Varsity.
Next, they beat Oakland two straight games despite the Tigers losing the only legitimate first baseman on the team, Sean Casey and their best reliever, Joel Zumaya, to injuries. The Tigers lost Mighty Casey because of a leg muscle tear while batting, a freak injury to say the least.
Even the sympathy factor is in Oaklands favor due to the bizarre death of a former As player who flew into a New York skyscraper. Also, on the day this column is being written, Detroit and Oakland will apparently be playing in the midst of a historically early snowfall. What else can happen?
Maybe the strangest thing about the Tigers is their manager - Jim Leyland. Talk about a throwback to another era... Leyland wouldnt look out of place playing shortstop with a Ty Cobb-era Tigers team. If anyone should be considered for membership in the Sparky Anderson Old School Managing Fraternity, it would be Jim Leyland.
A chain-smoking, bantam-rooster type, Leyland is crusty enough to deter many would-be critics and just emotional enough to show he is a regular guy. He is also the main reason for this turn-around Tigers season. He has willed this largely pedestrian team to the brink of a championship.
In a modern age of millionaire players and managers who succumb to their squads temperamental egos, no one questions that Jim Leyland is running this Detroit Tigers club. He commands everyones respect because he has already won a World Series and his unorthodox managerial moves usually work to the Tigers benefit.
But dont expect Detroit to advance to the playoffs again anytime soon. We are enjoying a strange Tigers team magically winning in a once in a lifetime baseball season.