Alumni: Tigers playing long game in rebuild

Detroit Tigers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kirk Gibson leaned forward in his chair following the West Michigan Sports Commission’s annual luncheon at the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids and took a second to think.

He had been asked about his feelings on Ron Gardenhire’s current situation as the Detroit Tigers’ manager. It’s not easy. In fact, according to one of the most memorable players in franchise history, it’s never off Gardenhire’s mind.

“(Gardenhire) has a great attitude and the clubhouse is in good shape and they respect him,” Gibson said. “He knew when he signed on the dotted line. I can’t even tell you what it’s like to be the manager right now, to lose all of those games and try to make a change. He’s thinking about that when other people are sleeping, I promise you that.”

Sitting next to Gibson was his former teammate on the Tigers’ 1984 World Series championship team and Hall of Famer, Alan Trammell. He can relate to being part of rebuilding a franchise like the current Tigers.

In October 2002, Trammell took over as Detroit’s manager. His first season with the team wasn’t a winning one. In fact, his team recorded the most losses an American League franchise has ever seen. The Tigers finished with 119 loses, one shy of the MLB record of 120 set by the New York Mets in 1962. Trammell knew then he was taking over a team that needed a complete remodel. He said nobody could win with that 2003 team because it was expected.

In the following season, Trammell improved the Tigers’ record to 72-90 and then finished 71-91 in 2005. He was released as the Tiger’s manager in October of 2005.

In 2006, Jim Leyland took over as the manager. He led the Tigers to the 2006 World Series and an AL pennant. It is still one of the greatest turn arounds in MLB history. Trammell finds satisfaction now in seeing some of his players from 2003-05 (Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, etc.) on that team.

Trammell said the current Tigers team is better than the 2003 roster ever was. Rebuilding was the right thing to do in his mind.

“In a couple years, we will have more depth,” Trammell said. “That’s the unfortunate thing, right now it’s not looking too good. But a couple weeks ago, we weren’t doing so bad. Again, let the season unfold, there is going to be some good things that will happen.”

The Tigers have a record of 18-26 and have lost six consecutive games. They are 11.5 games back of the Minnesota Twins (31-16), who lead the AL Central.

Trammell is a special assistant to Tigers’ general manager Al Avila. Gibson is also a special assistant in the organization and a color commentator for Fox Sports Detroit.

Trammell said that as a player, when times got tough, former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson told the players they had to play a full season regardless of the record. That message is still useful, he said.

“You don’t play 140 (games) or 145, you play a full season,” Trammell said. “If you want to go home on September 1st, then you also give up your paycheck. Nobody wants to do that.”

Trammell and Gibson believe the Tigers’ farm system is full of players who will help the team out in the near future. Gibson said there are plenty of pitchers in the minor leagues who are playing very well, including high draft picks Casey Mize and Matt Manning. Even Spencer Turnbull broke onto the scene in the Tigers’ starting rotation.

“You can’t leverage a year at the expense of four, five or six good years,” Gibson said. “As a manager, you’re saying, ‘Bring him up.’ As an organization, the right thing to do is make sure they are ready.”

Until those minor league players are ready, the rebuild in Detroit will continue. For now, Gibson and Trammell believe Gardenhire has the Tigers moving in the right direction

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