Wednesday, June 28, 2006

With More Support, Garner Could Have Brought Detroit Baseball Back -- Six Years Earlier

Phil Garner was hot.

Having stormed out of the dugout, the manager's veins bulged out in his neck as he went face-to-face with the offending umpire. The crowd roared as Garner revved up, eventually grabbing a bat and whacking it on home plate for emphasis.

Whack! Whack!

More crowd roaring.

By this time ejected, Garner did what most managers do when the damage is done: continue to act the fool. And, in front of the hometown crowd, a fool can be cheered as much as a competent.

When he finally marched back to the dugout, his cap off and his hair toussled and smoke shooting out of his ears, the fans at Comerica Park -- all 10,000 or so of them -- stood and applauded and hooted and hollered. It was April, 2001. And Garner had played the April Fool, but entertainingly so.

Garner's tirade, as manager of the Tigers -- which I saw in person -- came to mind as I saw him go off his rocker Monday night as his Astros stumbled against the Tigers. It was largely the same type of performance -- but with a tossed chair added to his repertoire.

There was a time when Garner may have presided over the resurgence of baseball in this town as is now occurring.

Hired to manage the Tigers before the 2000 season, Garner had plenty of ideas, many of which were encouraged and precipitated by team management. There would be a brand new ballpark -- Comerica Park. There would be a brand new superstar -- Juan Gonzalez. There would be a nifty, Japanese pitcher -- Hideo Nomo. And there would be money spent, the business suits told Garner. It was a welcome message, after spending several seasons managing the cash-strapped Milwaukee Brewers.

But it never occurred, the resurgence. It never came close. The Tigers flirted with wild card contention in early September, but their chances were about as real as Joan Rivers' face. Gonzalez, in the final year of his contract, never intended to re-sign in Detroit, despite GM Randy Smith's courtship. Nomo was a bust. And the promised money all seemed to go toward the Gonzalez fund, for nothing of note was spent on trying to lure anyone else to Detroit.

Early in the 2002 season, the team winless after a week, Garner got the ziggy. No resurgence. Just regurgitation.

"I would have loved to be a part of what's happening here," Garner said the other night after the Tigers whipped his team. "But it never worked out."

No, maybe not here. But Garner came back to town Monday as manager of the defending NL champ Astros. His team got swept in the World Series, but it got there. So there was a resurgence, after all -- Phil Garner's resurgence.

Still, he sounded almost wistful when speaking about his time in Detroit.

"Here, you have an entire state behind you. Millions of people. This is a sports state. You always have the full support of the people here."

Trouble was, Garner never had the full support of ownership while he managed in Detroit. The fans are great, but they can't make the necessary trades nor sign the needed free agents.

Though they'll tell you how it should be done. Always, that's been true.


Blogger Ozz said...

When the Tigers hired Garner, even though he wasn't a huge success in Milwaukee, I thought he was a decent choice.

In hindsight, is sure is a good thing that Juan Gone never took that huge contract he was offered.

10:47 PM  

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