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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

Tigers Stuck in a Web of Defeat

September 14, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

As the Detroit Tigers spent another week reeling -- if that's a strong enough word for an 0-6 trip to Toronto and New York -- toward an infamous destination of 120 losses and the New York Mets' 1962 record for ineptitude, catcher Brandon Inge was quoted as saying, "Everyone is numb to it. No one wants to hear about it anymore."

Unfortunately, it's everywhere. Even on the Internet, where Stephen T. Tremp, transplanted from Motown to Southern California and distraught over the demise of his beloved team under owner Michael Ilitch, has created a Web site called GROIN -- not to be confused with the groans the Tigers normally produce.

GROIN stands for Get Rid Of Ilitch Now.

Or as Tremp explains on the site:

"This site is composed by dedicated people who love the Detroit Tigers but are opposed to the neglect being shown by, and the direction of this team under Michael Ilitch."

The Tigers haven't had a winning season in a decade, and that probably can't be narrowed to the owner's neglect or a series of bad trades and signings by a series of general managers or a succession of bad drafts and developments.

The one certainty is that 2003 is what it is, a season seemingly without progress from April to September, although President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski disputed that when reached by phone.

Asked if there had been positives, Dombrowski cited the professionalism by undaunted Manager Alan Trammell and his staff, and the development of several young hitters, in particular, who were asked to carry more of the load than they should have in a lineup without much veteran production.

"There's a guy like Eric Munson, who made the transition [from catcher] to third base and has hit 18 home runs and would have more than 20 if he hadn't [broken a thumb]," Dombrowski said. "You look at a guy like Craig Monroe, who has 19 home runs as a rookie, and a Carlos Pena with 17 in his first full season. They've shown ability, but they're counted on to do more than should be expected at this stage of their careers."

So where do the Tigers go from here?

Dombrowski said there were arms in the system, talent at the lower levels and that he would be freed of some unproductive contracts this winter and next.

"I think all of us knew it would be a difficult year," he said. "We didn't know it would be quite this difficult, but we were breaking in a lot of young players and we knew it would be tough.

"I think the important thing is that Tram and his staff have set a foundation, and that was pivotal for us going forward."

Veteran Dmitri Young has said that the Tiger clubhouse is not the "psychiatric ward" some have portrayed it to be, but the depth of that pivotal foundation is difficult to measure under the siege of losses.

The Mets were an expansion team in 1962. The Tigers have a proud history that continues to be soiled.

However, Web author Tremp might remember what Casey Stengel theorized about that '62 season as the Met manager.

"Without losers," Casey said, "where would the winners be?"

The Spice Boys

Florida Marlin Manager Jack McKeon and Philadelphia Phillie Manager Larry Bowa have a history. McKeon was the San Diego Padre general manager when Bowa was fired as the team's manager in 1988 and replaced by ... McKeon. The latter has always pointed out that he was the man who hired Bowa in the first place and that it was decided by then-club president Chub Feeney to fire him.

Whether any of that played into a bit of verbal byplay between McKeon and Bowa the other day isn't clear, but the rhetoric probably will enliven what was already going to be an emotional three-game series involving the wild-card contenders starting Tuesday in Philadelphia.

The exchange started with McKeon talking about the pressure of the title race and then, in apparent reference to Bowa's explosive personality and recent outbursts, suggesting to a reporter from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that a manager can't let himself panic as Bowa does.

"This is when you have to temper it," McKeon said. "You can't get excited ... you can't panic. That's what you see when you get in a situation like this, it's the thing you see in Philadelphia, Bowa panicking."

Responded Bowa, clearly agitated, despite insisting that he wasn't, "It's not important. I don't worry about it. I know what I'm about, and [GM] Ed Wade knows what I'm about. I don't care about the Florida Marlins.... If they're worried about other teams, they have problems."

Say What?

If Clint Hurdle wasn't suggesting to Larry Walker that he should think about retiring, as the Colorado manager insisted he wasn't during their private meeting Wednesday night, he certainly was suggesting to the National League's MVP of 1997 that he was at a crossroads and should think about what direction he wanted to head.

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