The Detroit Tigers are not going to be very good this year.
This is not news to anyone reading this. They’ve spent the last eight months gutting their roster and trading anything with value that isn’t nailed down. (Sorry, Miguel.) It means that, for the first time in over a decade, the Tigers are embarking on a season in which pretty much everyone involved thinks they have no chance. Sure, there have been years where they’ve floundered or finished well off the pace before – 2008, 2010, 2015 – but it wasn’t for lack of effort.
It has come to my attention that there are a lot of people who are going to find this jarring. If you turn 22 this year, that means you were only 10 years old in 2006, and over half of your life has been lived with the Tigers being relevant. Heck, if you’re currently in college, your memories of non-contending Tigers teams are fuzzy at best and more likely nonexistent. Even if you’re older like me and do have rather vivid memories of those late-90s and early-2000s teams, it’s been a while. We could all use a refresher course.
That is the question. How do you watch – and derive entertainment from – a team that will be mediocre at best and horrendously awful at worst?
1) Look for signs of a bright future
Yeah, this one is a bit obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning. Look, there’s something of an acceptance that, if you play your cards right, even the worst teams can contend again within three to four years. If the Tigers could transition from almost-worst-team-in-history to American League champions in three years, anybody can, at least in theory.
So think in terms of 2020 or 2021. Who will still be around? Who will be worth keeping around? Michael Fulmer certainly comes to mind. Nick – sorry – Nicholas Castellanos could have a future here. Jeimer Candelario, certainly. Then there’s the rest of the gaggle of prospects that aren’t here yet, but may end up seeing action in 2018. It’s those players you cling to.
2) Find your cult heroes
Back in 2001 and 2002, when the Tigers were hopelessly terrible with no apparent end in sight, the team employed a first baseman named Randall Simon. Simon swung at everything – he walked a grand total of 28 times in 780 total plate appearances with the team, and with 31 doubles and 25 home runs, had little extra base power. But the man could hit singles. He hit .302 over those seasons in Detroit, and when he hit singles, he would kiss the necklace he wore after reaching first base.
That was it. Simon left the Tigers after the 2002 season and ultimately became most notable for taking a baseball bat to one of Milwaukee’s racing sausages. He was more or less out of the league within two years and played his last big league game at the age of 31 in 2006. But hey, for a season and a half, he was fun, and fun was not always something that came easy to those teams. He had personality and at least one semi-competent skill on a team that often lacked semi-competent skill. So hey, maybe Mikie Mahtook or Leonys Martin or Dixon Machado wouldn’t be a factor on a good team. But if they’re fun, who cares? You take what you can get.
3) Cheap tickets!
Bad news for season ticket holders like me who, uh, aren’t exactly going to make a killing on the resale market this season. But if that’s not you, it’s great for you, because you’re going to get really good seats for a really good price on most nights if you know where to look. And hey, even if the team is a flaming dumpster fire, attending a baseball game is still a good experience if you’re intent on making it one. Fewer lines! More space to hang out and have fun! Less people means your exceedingly uncreative taunts aimed at Mike Moustakas stand a better chance of being heard! Live it up.
4) Seize on signs of progress – any of them
Is a top prospect coming up to make his Major League debut and showing signs of progress when he gets there? Don’t put too much expectation on him, but relish it. Is a player who has struggled at the MLB level starting to put things together? Get pumped. Did Ron Gardenhire do something smart? Praise the deity of your choice. There’s a line between overreacting and just getting excited and seizing on the bright spots. There’s nothing wrong with the latter.
5) Flip the standings around
This is, admittedly, a bit cynical, but it sure made the end of the 2017 season a lot more fun. And besides, when the bullpen inevitably blows another one, isn’t it more fun to pretend it was a late comeback rather than a capitulation?
6) Relish the spoiler role
In 2006, the Kansas City Royals did a stupid and came in to Detroit and swept the Tigers to deny them an AL Central title. In 2016, with the Tigers in the thick of the wildcard race, they lost the last two games of the season to a 90-loss Braves team that ultimately helped deny them that wildcard berth.
That is going to be the Tigers now. They get to be the thorn in the side. Cleveland may have the better team, but the Tigers will have the opportunity to ruin their day and give them a headache. The Yankees and Astros may be the AL favorites, but the Tigers can tick them off. Relish it. It’s not the ideal role, but it’s the role they must play, and a role they can have fun with.
7) Enjoy the fading veterans while they last
This is probably Victor Martinez’s last go in Detroit, with his contract up after the season. Miguel Cabrera will be around a while thanks to his contract, but he’s still going to turn 35 in April. These are two players who have played a huge role in the last decade or so of Tiger history and deserve to be remembered fondly, even if their careers – Martinez, in particular – probably won’t end with a victory lap.
So enjoy them and pay tribute to them while they’re still playing. It may not be their most memorable year, but don’t take for granted the chance to see them.
8) Don’t be afraid to laugh
Here’s a little secret about the 2003 Tigers: they were absolutely hilarious. They found new ways to lose on a regular basis. They dropped popups, they ran into each other, they made basic mistakes, and they did things wrong that it’s hard to believe could be done wrong. Now, there are two ways to react to something like that. You can either get mad or you can find it hysterical, and I prefer the latter. What can you do about it? Nothing. Nothing but laugh.
Now, to be clear, I am in no way trying to say that the 2018 team will be as bad as that 2003 team was, but we’re going to see some bone-headed plays and stupid decisions – even more than we’re used to. There’s nothing wrong with having a laugh. So long as they’re trying as hard as they can, after all.