Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Tigers' death spiral didn't begin with Mike Ilitch. Let's talk Tom Monaghan

After posting my piece on the evils of Mike Ilitch's Tiger ownership, I got to thinking. The march of the Detroit Tigers to baseball oblivion didn't begin with him. If you remember, Ilitch was gong to save the Tigers from the eccentric to a fault, the man who makes Mel Gibson's religious views look liberal, Tom Monaghan.

Monaghan had a 3-4 year honeymoon with the Tiger fanbase. It helped that he bought a team that was on the verge of greatness, that being the '84 Tigers. But after their last hurrrah in winning the Eastern division in 1987, the Tigers unraveled, with unprecedented speed, mostly due to Monaghan's ignorance and mismanagement. The last few years of Monaghan's ownership truly started the Tigers' spiral from the most loved team in Detroit to near irrelevancy.

What where some of the "Highlights" of the Tom Monaghan era?

Hired respected "Baseball" mind Bo Schembechler as President of the Tigers. Bo soon learned that a bull in a china shop football mentality doesn't work in the baseball world. The debacle of Schembechler running the Tigers into the ground and acting as mouthpiece for Monaghan nearly burned up the 25 years of goodwill he built up as coach of the Wolverines.

The last great GM of the Tigers, Bill Lajoie, was fed up with Monaghan's bowlderizing of the Tiger system, and left for greener pastures. It took over 20 years to finally find a decent replacement in Dave Dombrowski.

Players not shaving and looking rough around the edges offended his "Values." Remember the grief Monaghan gave Kirk Gibson? It was no wonder the leaders of the 1984 world champions bailed out of Detroit as soon as their contracts ran out.

The words "Free agent" were never to be spoken during Monaghan's ownership. Did the Tigers ever sign a big name free agent from 84-92? Cecil Fielder doesn't count, due to his being a refugee from Japan, and there wasn't exactly an overwhelming demand for his services. A fine example of blind squirrel meeting nut. Otherwise, the Tigers lost good players to free agency, and could never replace them. Under Monaghan's stewardship, the Tigers began to run their organization on the cheap.

While Monaghan was enthusiasticly cutting the Tigers budget to the bone, he was sphioning money from the Tigers to help keep the bastard brother of Little Cesears, Domino's Pizza, afloat, and finance his strange flights of fancy. Such as buying Drummond Island and making it a luxury getaway, building Domino's Farms, his fleet of rare, ultra expensive cars, luxury yachts, financing his ├╝ber conservative Catholic and political viewpoints, $42 pairs of socks, and who knows what else. All you can say for certain is that the Tigers, their farm system, and the front office were a shell of their former selves when Monaghan sold out.

Monaghan, during his drive to leave downtown, called Detroit "One of the worst baseball cities" in America. His disdain for the city was the beginning of the downfall of Tiger Stadium. Monaghan desperately wanted to move the Tigers to the suburbs, specifically the Ann Arbor area. Thank God saner heads prevaled.

In his most grevious move, Monaghan used Schembechler as his point man to force the legendary Ernie Harwell out of the broadcast booth, replacing him with journeymen broadcasters Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun. "Goodbye baseball" still hurts my ears. Nothing against those two, as they were placed in an unwinnable situation, but their overtly homer style of calling a game was awful beyond words. Especially when compared with the elegantly understated Harwell. WJR claimed they made the horrible decision, but it was more than obvious that the order to release Harwell came from high in the Tiger front office.

Say what you will about Mike Ilitch, but many of his mistakes were made in trying to repair the problems that Tom Monaghan's neglect had created. Today, Monaghan may want to save souls with his version of christianity. But he didn't practice what he preached as an owner, as he crushed the souls of Tiger fans.

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