Friday, January 19, 2007

2007 Tigers Have Chance To Repeat Ancient History

The years roll off the tongue, when it comes to talking about Tigers baseball.

1968. Thrilling, come-from-behind victories. A hero every night. McLain and his 31 victories. A stunning comeback from a 1-3 hole in the World Series.

1972. Good pitch, no hit bunch who captured an improbable AL East flag on the season's final weekend, beating Boston in Detroit. A heartbreaking, 3-2 series loss to the A's in the ALCS.

1984. 35-5. Wire-to-wire lead. Willie Hernandez's unconscious season. Gibby's blast off Gossage to cap a 7-1 postseason. World champs again!

1987. An 11-19 start doesn't portend what is perhaps the most thrilling final week of baseball we'll ever see. A 3-1/2 game deficit with eight days to go. Then the Blue Jays go in the tank, and the Tigers win the division on the final day, behind Frank Tanana's crooked, creaky arm that manages a 1-0 win over Toronto. Then, a flameout in the ALCS -- probably because the team was emotionally spent.

These years are treasured by baseball fans in Detroit. And you can certainly now add 2006 to that list. But how does the following sound? The '69 Tigers. The Tigers of '73. The '85 Bengals. Those Tigers of 1988.

Not so magical.

The Tigers, 2007 version, have a chance to do something that hasn't been done since, well, 1935. And that is to win consecutive American League pennants. It's also the last time the Tigers qualified for the postseason in two straight seasons.

The winter caravan winds down today -- that bus full of Tigers players, coaches, and media interlopers -- and the reception at every stop for the two separate buses has been, as expected, quite audacious. The fans are still inebriated from last season's success, and they're treating their baseball heroes like ... heroes.

It wasn't always that way, of course. Even last year, despite the hiring of Jim Leyland as manager, skepticism reigned. Hope may have peeked out, like the groundhog on February 2nd, but instead of seeing his shadow and thus predicting more cold, dark winter, there was the feeling of a thaw perhaps happening.

"We won't cheat you," Leyland told one of the crowds yesterday. "We'll put on a show when you spend your hard earned money."

That, too, is different talk.

But this time the skipper has something with which to back up his words. He has a fine, talented team -- a nice blend of youth and experience. Heck, even the youth is experienced. And playoff-tested. He has all those young pitchers, plus the veteran Kenny Rogers. He has a brand new big bat -- the sometimes enigmatic Gary Sheffield. And he has more players coming, courtesy the suddenly prosperous farm system.

He has all these things, and more. The tools are in place for another playoff run.

But they were in place in 1969, when the Tigers returned just about everyone, including the ostentatious McLain, and finished 19 games behind the Orioles.

The Tigers of '73, another year older and with no young help on the way, kept things interesting until mid-August, when manager Billy Martin did his usual implosion and got the ziggy. The team limped home in third place.

The 1985 bunch, like their predecessors sixteen years earlier, pretty much returned the main cast of characters from the previous year's championship roster. But there was no magic, and the Tigers finished a distant 15 games behind the Blue Jays.

The 1988 Tigers, sans Kirk Gibson, who fled to Los Angeles, were actually part of a multi-team race that nobody seemed to want. But a late season swoon hurt them, and they finished a game behind the Red Sox.

So not since the 1934-35 Tigers has a Detroit baseball team done the back-to-back postseason shimmy.

It should be pointed out that the '34 team lost the World Series, too. To the Cardinals, too.

The 1935 team beat the Cubs in the World Series.

Will history repeat, some 72 years later?

Well, the Cubs were active this offseason ...


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