Tigers' pennant may have been unlikeliest of all time
Posted: Tuesday October 17, 2006 1:44PM; Updated: Tuesday October 17, 2006 4:04PM
Youngsters like Connor Higgins, 13, of Detroit are basking in the glow of the Tigers' amazing turnaround this season.
The annual bleating from World Series teams that "nobody expected us to be here" has become such a cliché that a beer company used it in a television advertisement that is a send-up of the postgame clubhouse celebration. Thank goodness for the Detroit Tigers. Their success is such a joyful surprise that even the Tigers themselves admit they did not expect to be in the 102nd World Series. Just ask them.
"We just wanted to get better," said third baseman Brandon Inge, one of the remaining survivors of the 119-loss embarrassment that was the 2003 season.
"I wasn't even a Tiger and I felt bad for those guys [in 2003]," closer Todd Jones said. "I guess to be here after being the butt of every Jay Leno and David Letterman joke, it's got to feel pretty good."
The Tigers played so well to begin the season and so tautly during their 7-1 postseason run thus far that it's worth remembering from whence they came. Indeed, as I stood in the middle of the Comerica Park diamond Saturday, the Tigers still celebrating and their fans still not wanting to leave, I took a moment to study the scene and afix it in my memory.
Firstly, I was struck by how powerful the illumination of the stadium lights was. You could identify a friend in the upper deck if you wished. It was a bit of rush standing there in the middle of the infield and looking at this well-lit wall of 43,000 happy people. But what hit me even more was that this beautiful, underrated ballpark was filled with people who waited so very long for anything even close to this kind of happiness. There is no joy as moving as the joy that comes unexpectedly. And right then I began to wonder: Are the 2006 Tigers the most shocking World Series team of all time?
I looked at the 202 other teams that reached the World Series before the '06 Tigers. (No, not in the infield; I waited until I got home.) But how do you decide which team was the biggest shock to get to the World Series? Start with an easy one. Thirty-two teams (16 percent; the Tigers' entry is included) reached the World Series the year after a losing season. Here are the teams with the worst record the year before making the World Series:
Previous Win Pct.
1991, Atlanta Braves
1993, Philadelphia Phillies
1961, Cincinnati Reds
2006, Detroit Tigers
1987, Minnesota Twins
OK, fine, but the Tigers have been bad for a really long time. It's not as if they made it to the World Series after one poor season that was a fluke. How many teams made the World Series after losing 90 or more games in consecutive seasons? Only three:
(By the way, tracking these losers-turned-winners raised another question: How do these teams fare in the World Series? Are they just happy to be there or are they teams of destiny to the end? The answer is fairly obvious: both. The Tigers are the 15th team to reach the World Series in the year after a multiple-season losing streak. Of the previous 14, seven won the Fall Classic and seven lost it.)
Does all this make the Tigers the most shocking World Series team of all time? Yes. At the very least, they are on the short list with the 1914 Braves, '69 Mets and '91 Braves. But the Tigers get slightly more shock value because they were worse in their pre-World Series season (.438) than the '14 Braves (.457) or the '69 Mets (.451). And while the '91 Braves made a bigger turnaround (.401), they weren't as bad for nearly as long (seven losing years) as the Tigers (12 losing years). Simply put, no World Series team has ever been worse for longer than the 2006 Tigers.
I did happen to hear about one person who believed in the Tigers as a World Series team. One member of the organization told me about a distant family relation who put down $500 on 90-to-1 odds before the season started that the Tigers would go to the World Series. Sometime either before or during the ALCS, the guy was offered $20,000 to settle the bet, a sort of "Deal or No Deal" gambit. The guy refused, and now stands to collect $45,000. Now that's shocking.