November 16, 2012-"Pilot"
|Torii Hunter (center) with Dave Dombrowski (left) and Mike Illitch (right) photo credit: Detroit Free Press|
Well, after an excruciating fifteen minute search for the perfect name for a blog, and getting over the initial disappointment that "Topspin" may be too dangerously close to "Deadspin"to get away with, I settled on "The Winged Roar." I know, I thought it may be a little too basic to be catchy at all, but if "The New York Times" can sell millions of papers, I figured catchy content may best a catchy title. So this little experiment will be basically what it sounds like: a pre-cynical Detroit sports fan's take on the way the motor city sports scene moves (of course extending my boundaries from sea to shining sea because there are far too many ridiculous story lines and quality information out there to make one quarter of these posts about the Lions). I'll do my best to be on here as much as possible, but as most sports fans will argue, there will be days when the most interesting of occurrences doesn't warrant a text message to your best friend. Yesterday, however, was not one of those days...
Since I was a little one with white hair and coke bottles resting on my face, my sports heart has belonged to Detroit; maybe even more so, to the Tigers and Red Wings. And since Gary Bettman vs. The Players (Round 3) seems to be taking more time than expected, everyone LOVES to talk about the Tigers. It's difficult for anyone to blame them. The Tigers (other than the beloved Winged Wheelers) have forcefully taken over the "contend-for-a-title" mentality that brings so many proud Detroiters to the edge of their seat--and the edge of their wallet. Owner Mike Illitch's pursuit of the Commissioner's Trophy has been documented as well as any Detroit sports issue in recent memory. And for the record, yes I did have to look up what the name of that giant awkward trophy is called. What I didn't need to look up though is the name of the A-list talent that the Tigers made very rich: Torii Hunter.
In Detroit, it has been my assessment that the hardest sports positions to play are goalie for the Red Wings and quarterback for the Lions. Before Kwame decided to enact his own party on the political scene, there may have been an argument that the quarterback/goalie combo got scrutinized more than the mayor. But I'll need Blue Label not Red Label to get into that discussion, and the funds are focused elsewhere than a $200 bottle of scotch at this point. In any event, Torii Hunter may find himself in a role that most Detroiters have already anointed him: savior. Hunter has been labeled as the missing piece to a Detroit team that is on the cusp of greatness. Whether fair or unfair, true or untrue, if Hunter fails to produce and the Tigers miss out again on baseball's holy grail, Hunter may take the title of "biggest waste in Detroit sports acquisitions" right out of the firm grasp from Marian Hossa. It may seem crazy at first, but Torii's only going to be here for two years; Hossa was here for one. The difference between the two is of course that the Red Wings were coming off a Stanley Cup when they signed Hossa. The Tigers, on the other hand, are coming off a World Series sweep that most fans will blame on the photo bomber Sergio Romo, and of course Joe Buck. Yet all things considered, I have a difficult time feeling like Hunter will be anything but a home run with the Tigers, and Detroit.
The 2012-2013 Detroit Tigers have those rare expectations that anything less than a championship is unacceptable. Those expectations don't grow on trees. As much as anyone from New York who decides to read this will argue, the Yankees do not have those expectations every year. The Miami Heat probably have those expectations. Other than that, I'm fairly certain I could come up with a counter to any other team...in sports. Sure Brady and Belichick want to win it every year. Sure Girardi and Jeter want to win it every year. But the viable threat of a roster that will be extremely disappointed without a ring, and more importantly SHOULD be disappointed without a ring, is a criterion that does not fit more than one or two teams a year. The Tigers have that criterion. Torii Hunter solidified that point for a marathon of reasons (see his contract). Last year when Prince Fielder signed, everyone was ecstatic, and with good reason. But if you looked at the Tigers from a purely baseball standpoint, and not a monetary standpoint, it seemed they may be a year away. That year is here. The Tigers have strong potential All-Stars at seven of the ten positions that make up an American League baseball game. The three that they don't have a perennial All-Star at are shortstop, left field, and second base. Yet if they had anyone other than Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks, and Omar Infante at those positions, I think their title chances go down. People have knocked Peralta for his range and for his underachieving numbers at the plate. The facts are he misses almost zero ground balls and has produced in the postseason at every opportunity. In that lineup, if he doesn't hit .275, they still win games. Andy Dirks seems to be the least criticized of Detroit role players since Kris Draper. Two words: the slide. Omar Infante has been criticized for everything from his defense to his "swag" to his English. He plays second base. Trust me, he's a fine second basemen. If you could name five Hall of Fame second basemen in fifteen seconds (without looking them up), I'd hand you ten dollars. But since we aren't in the same room, I'll take my chances. And to those about to say it, don't tell me Avila isn't a potential All-Star, he was there two years ago.
This Tiger team has more hype than any Tiger team in my lifetime, which is only 22 years at this point, but to go 22 years without a title is long enough. Sorry Cubs fans. This team has as much hype as any team in Detroit Sports since the 2001-2002 Red Wings, a team that saw the sixth leading scorer in NHL history center its third line. Signing Torii Hunter to go along with that lineup trumps the Pistons trading for Rasheed Wallace in 2004. For me it trumps the Red Wings signing Marian Hossa. And everyone knows it trumps the Lions signing of anyone in the Super Bowl era. Anyone who talks about Hunter immediately makes sure to say he is a better person than player. That doesn't happen very often with stars. For a team that seemed to lack leadership down the stretch (no, that's not the reason the Tigers lost to the Giants), they couldn't have asked for a better leader. The Tigers now have the toughest part of Comerica Park covered with two of the best defensive outfielders in the game today. They now have a legitimate number two hitter, who hits those soft throwing southpaws, steals bases, and hits home runs. They have the best hitter in the game. They have the best pitcher in the game. They have an owner willing to put a plethora of zero's at the end of checks to bring the pieces to Detroit. They have a GM and a Manager who have built winners and won before. They have youth where they need youth. They have experience where they need experience. They have a fan base who wants a title more than they want a warm winter. They have a city on the rise behind them. The marriage between the city of Detroit and the Tigers is firmly in tact. But to put this marriage on the map the way the Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox are, it needs one thing: a ring.