Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tigers (Finally) Find Improbable Formula for Success

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tigers (Finally) Find Improbable Formula for Success

Article excerpt

In baseball terms, their lead starting pitcher is ancient, the equivalent of a '97 Taurus wagon with 200,000 miles.

Their batting style is straight out of recreation league softball: Swing at everything that doesn't bounce before it reaches home plate.

Their manager looks like the guy who takes your check at the auto body shop.

Yet the Detroit Tigers - a team that hasn't had a winning season since phones had cords - is, improbably, going to the World Series. For Michiganders from Menominee to Muskegon, and for all those in the great state diaspora who can show where they used to live by using their hand as a map and pointing, it's time to wear the old English "D" with pride.

Somewhere, Ty Cobb is poking Babe Ruth in the ribs.

"It's a great franchise," said Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski Saturday night. "The people around this city, the state ... it's just what they deserve."

In 2003 the Tigers were the laughingstock of baseball. That year only a late season surge kept them from surpassing the 1962 Mets as the game's losingest team.

Yet this year they won 95 games, and only a late season swoon kept them from winning the American League Central Division. As the wild-card entry in the playoffs, they trussed up the Yankees like a rotisserie chicken, then swept the Athletics. Now they have a week off to await the outcome of the National League Championship Series.

In truth the turnaround isn't a complete surprise. Pizza baron Mike Ilitch has won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, and in the process he learned what it takes to produce championship teams. Now he appears to have applied that formula to the Tigers, which he bought in 1992.

The formula might be summed up like this:

First, acquire people who've won before. Dombrowksi put together the Florida Marlins team that won the World Series in 1997. Tigers field manager Jim Leyland was the Marlins' manager.

Leyland is a wizened baseball lifer, the Tigers' Dumbledore, a source of wisdom and inspiration who is skilled at motivating everyone from raw rookies to Ivan Gonzalez, the catcher who is the team's one sure Hall of Famer. …

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