In Delivering the American League a win, Jim Leyland and each of his six Tigers’ representatives showed themselves masterfully at this year’s All-Star Game in New York. (Sir_Charles, Flickr)
A long time ago, the Detroit Tigers were one of those sad sack baseball teams everybody loves to complain about once a year. They routinely had a singular All-Star Game representative and nothing more.
For years, it was only Cecil Fielder, Damien Easley, Travis Fryman or Tony Clark filling time and filling a place. Pudge Rodriguez was merely a sentimental space filler for 2005′s “home game” in Detroit. Eight years later, fans that remember these days all too well had to have their cup literally runneth over watching the Tigers’ fantastic involvement in the 2013 MLB All-Star Game.
Consider the new facts: Max Scherzer was the starter, and he pitched a perfect first inning with a strikeout. Miguel Cabrera’s scorching double got the American League on the board first. Prince Fielder’s exciting triple was the first by a first baseman in the All-Star Game since 1978. Jhonny Peralta later singled, and Torii Hunter, serving initially as chief motivator, saw a late at-bat. Oh yeah, Jim Leyland and Detroit’s staff managed masterfully, also providing Mariano Rivera with a perfect midsummer classic sendoff.
Those boring 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2002 All-Star Games, in which Detroit had one measly representative that rarely saw any meaningful playing time, seem to be light-years away now. The Tigers have two of the best hitters in the game, dominating starting pitching, a well-respected manager and quality complementary players, all of whom helped deliver home field advantage for the American League in this October’s World Series. The franchise is now consistently representing itself well on baseball’s biggest stages, which has been a remarkable about face in a very short period of time.
That’s the biggest reason fans in other cities shouldn’t complain when their favorite team gets only one representative, nor should anyone call for the end of allowing every team to have an All-Star. It’s often underestimated how much that practice means to a baseball city with lost hope in a product. Seeing one singular star, no matter how frustrating, still represents hope. To some, it might be a comical waste of time, but the 2013 Tigers help prove that baseball turnarounds can always be lurking around the next corner.
Ask anyone watching the Tigers in the last two decades if they ever dreamed of the day they’d be watching six All-Stars compete wearing the familiar “Detroit” script across their chest, and they’d likely say no, but admit the thought was always appealing. With slight organizational changes, teams often change their fortunes dramatically in short periods of time. The Pittsburgh Pirates, with five selections, are yet another example this season. For years, that franchise has been considered an All-Star game joke, as well.
It’s invigorating for baseball to see some of their proud yet still former punch lines, Detroit and Pittsburgh, punching back. The national media likely would never admit it, but the contributions of the Tigers were the major reason the American League prevailed on Tuesday night. Without Scherzer setting the tone, perhaps the National League gets on the board first. Without Cabrera’s RBI breaking the ice, perhaps the game remains closer for a few more innings. Without Hunter’s speech and Leyland’s respectful managing, perhaps veterans wouldn’t feel as motivated or galvanized to provide a win.
Yes, the Tigers won this 2013 All-Star game with hustle, determination, power and respect. As the credits dropped the curtain on Tim McCarver’s favorite All-Star memories, my thoughts drifted back to some of my own growing up. Mostly, they revolved around seeing one Tiger, usually overshadowed, respectfully doffing his cap to muted applause in a cavernous stadium which seemed to swallow him whole, and my hopes that one day, Detroit could be as well represented as the Yankees or Red Sox always are.
Yesterday night, finally, every single Tigers’ All-Star managed to deliver with the entire baseball world watching. For this, Fielder, Easley, Fryman and Clark should thank them for vindication sake, as should the legions of fans that remember their lonely All-Star appearances all too well.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax