Friday, September 15, 2006

No Moral Victories: Tigers Must Qualify For Playoffs To Call 2006 A Success

Joaquin Andujar, eccentric pitcher with the Cardinals and Astros, was once asked to sum up a pennant race in one word.

"Youneverknow," was his reply, making up a new word from three.

It's also my response, whenever I hear an apologist for the Tigers' last month of follies tell me, "Hey, if you had been told in April that the Tigers would be in first place in September, you'd have been thrilled."

Sure -- in April.

But after 146 games, it's an awful attitude to take. Because, as Andujar so wonderfully said, "Youneverknow."

Youneverknow when you're going to get this chance again. Youneverknow how many more times you'll be set up, as the Tigers were in August, for a romp to the playoffs. Youneverknow if this was THE year, and heaven help us if they fritter it away.

There's nothing wrong with expectations changing from April to September. They should, frankly. If a team proves itself to be better than the pasty-face prognosticators on TV and radio thought they would be coming out of spring training, then good for them. But go out there and grab it; don't assume that this is going to be an annual thing.

Good, young, homegrown talent is terrific, and it's still the best way to build a winner. But just because a ballclub has a wealth of it is not a guarantee that the winning will pour out of the spicket like water. Young players can be derailed. ALL players can have down years. The competition is trying, too.

I hope like heck that the Tigers aren't, subconsciously, satisfied with the season they've had thus far. Three years ago, they had to play like the dickens to avoid setting a MLB record for most losses in a season. That kind of pressure was heavy. Today, they play to avoid becoming a different kind of cautionary tale. No team has been 40 games over .500 on August 7, as the Tigers were, and failed to qualify for the postseason. A playoff-less season, at this point, would go down as one of the biggest collapses in baseball history.

Doubtful folks will be praising them for their improvement over last season, should that collapse materialize. And nor should they.

I'm sorry, but no pats on the back at this point. There are 16 games remaining. The Tigers are going to have to play them with spit and vinegar if they want to get into the playoffs. They've gone past the point of moral victories. There's only room for real victories -- such as a playoff berth.

Will this chance happen again next year? Or the year after that?



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