Ilitch assesses Tigers' season
Owner knew Granderson's injury was a bad omen for '08
DETROIT -- Tigers owner Mike Ilitch had an uneasy feeling about the Tigers' season when it started.
"I had one little superstition at the beginning of the year, when our leadoff man [Curtis Granderson] broke his finger," Ilitch said Friday. "Being in sports all my life, a lot of times you start off with a little bit of a quirk. And he's our sparkplug. And I said, 'Man, with this cold weather coming up and our sparkplug out of the lineup, I'm worried about our start, getting off to a bad start.' So I was concerned, because he was out a week or two, a couple weeks."
It's a different feeling, however, than the surprise Ilitch felt when everything settled out and Detroit didn't make a run at the American League Central title, despite the offseason trades that were expected to bolster the club.
"Just like all of you, I didn't foresee to have all the holes that we did," Ilitch said. "I mean, beyond my wildest dreams, I didn't anticipate that. I thought we had a good, nice, solid foundation that we were going to build from and keep the ballclub up, contending all the time. But it didn't work out."
Friday was the date of the Tigers' annual team photo, in which Ilitch always takes part. He arrived at Comerica Park, sat for the photo alongside president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, manager Jim Leyland and his players, then paused to take questions from reporters. It was believed to be his first public remarks on the team this season.
"We've got to get back on the ball and see if we can get ourselves restructured now, correct all the mistakes that we made," Ilitch said. "We've got to go back over -- I've got to go back over -- everything that we've done. And now everybody will learn and be reminded that we're not in a normal business, and anything can happen. And I think it humbled everybody. So we'll have to pay the price."
Paying the price, he later explained, involves what the Tigers are doing now. Instead of entering the season's final weekend looking ahead to the postseason, Detroit is trying to finish out of last place despite a $138 million payroll. The Tigers will finish with their first losing record since 2005.
"Pay the price for miscalculating so deeply," Ilitch said. "In other words, we paid the price. I don't want to go through that again now. I want to make sure I get the right team together, and then I want to move forward again. I figured I lost a year, year and a half, but I'll be right back at it."
Given those remarks, what happens next year remains to be seen, especially in terms of adding talent. Before deciding any of that, Ilitch wants to focus on the current players, what went wrong in those decisions, and who comprises the core group of players around which they can build.
"I don't know what [changes] we'll be making," Ilitch said. "I just want to get back to where I thought I was, and that was competing with Boston, competing with the good teams, holding your team up there, year after year. That's my goal, personally. It's not there, so we're going to work like the dickens to get it back. But we've got to level off now, see where we're at, make a reanalysis of who our real players are and who we're going to keep and we're going to go forward with.
"Are we going to mix youth with veterans? What are we going to do exactly? ... So we've got to take a look at each area and see how long it's going to take to repair it -- and can we do it immediately? It's hard to answer the questions now. We've got a big job in front of us, a big job. I know in a year, year and a half, I'll be OK, but I'm just concerned about this next year, making sure that we make the right decisions to go forward with who we have, and then we'll go from there."
As for what kind of payroll the Tigers will carry, Ilitch indicated that decision has yet to be made, though he suggested the club has more pressing issues than that.
"I'm not sure what we would do on payroll," he said. "That would be the last thing that I'm going to look at. I mean, I'm not afraid to go out and spend money. It's been very costly, but I'm not going to change my ways. But I don't know if this year is the year to go after people. I'm more concerned about getting the team in shape and seeing who we've got and who are the real Detroit Tigers."
One player who is clearly among that group is slugging first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who has rebounded from a slow start to head into the final days tied for the AL home run lead. He has a shot to become the Tigers' first home run champ since Cecil Fielder in 1990.
Considering it was Ilitch who suggested to Dombrowski last November that they could look into acquiring him off the trading block, setting in motion the blockbuster deal, he has no regrets over that move.
"I think we've got ourselves a superstar," Ilitch said. "Coming in [with doubters] saying he's going to have trouble hitting American League pitching, 25 years old, that's a lot of money, he won't be able to handle it, all those types of things when you sign a big contract. So I'm proud that he stood up under the pressure and performed, I think, at a very high level. He would've gotten a lot more attention if we'd had a good ballclub, because those are not mousy numbers."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.