In fact, the last Tiger draft pick to make it big in Detroit was third baseman Travis Fryman, who was the organization's third pick in 1987 and joined the big club three years later. There had been several homegrown players on the '84 world-championship team, including Gibson, Trammell and Whitaker.
In recent years Detroit has attempted to cover up its inability to develop players by signing big-ticket free agents like Rob Deer, Dan Gladden, Bill Krueger, Eric Davis and Tim Belcher, all of whose most impressive numbers were on their pay stubs.
"In the 1990s the Tigers have always had great hitting, but they've never acquired the pitching, never committed fully to building a winner," says former Detroit catcher Lance Parrish, now in the Kansas City Royal camp. "Sometimes you wonder, What the heck are they thinking? Is there a master plan? But every year it seems new people are running the show, and when you're playing musical chairs in the front office, you have to expect some decay."
In the bloody days surrounding pizza magnate Michael Ilitch's purchase of the Tigers in 1992, chairman of the board and CEO (and Anderson's friend) Jim Campbell was fired, as was club president Bo Schembechler. Even Alice Sloane, the Tigers' 72-year-old executive secretary, an employee for 47 years, was axed in the aftermath of the purge. The terminations created a rift between Anderson and the front office that has festered ever since. The acrimony reached its zenith when it was prematurely leaked to the press that Anderson would take an unexpected leave of absence on Feb. 17, choosing not to manage the replacement players. "The leak was made on purpose to add fuel to this thing," Anderson said. "This is the worst disgrace I've ever heard. It was a bank robbery that was done inside." Said Klein, "I don't think you win too many points when you leave your club on the first day of spring training." When it was suggested that Anderson believed his integrity was at stake, Klein added, "Doesn't a contract have integrity?"
That contract runs out after this season, and while Anderson senses his lame-duck status, he nonetheless conducts business as usual. "If you worry about what's going on upstairs, you might as well quit," he says. "Lots of nasty things have been said, but I just keep managing my way. Just because you work with people doesn't mean you have to pal around with them."
Still, so public is the bitterness between Anderson and the Tiger brass that last Friday, before the Cincinnati Reds demolished Detroit in a Grapefruit League game, Cincy owner Marge Schott suggested she might speak to Anderson about returning to manage the Reds, whom he took to four World Series as manager between 1970 and '78.
Before he goes anywhere, Anderson must first endure the 1995 season. "We might get a beating," says Anderson, who was once renowned for his blind optimism. "If I sat here and said we can win this division, it would be an insult to New York, Toronto and Baltimore."
"We know that on paper other teams are much better than we are, but you can't expect to field a bunch of rookies and win the division," Whitaker says. "Somehow we need to stir it all up into a cake with icing—something fluffy." But many believe that if the '95 Tigers resemble any confection, it will be a cupcake.
There is some good news, however. About $8 million has been lopped off the Detroit payroll as a result of the decision to not re-sign several expensive free agents, including Belcher, Davis, Bill Gullickson, Chad Kreuter and Mickey Tettleton. And after beginning to work younger players into the lineup during last season, the Tigers are creating a huge opportunity for their top-level prospects this year. One or two young pitchers—from among Lima, 22, Thompson, 22, and Sean Bergman, 25—will be thrust into the rotation. Chris Gomez, 23, will get a full-time shot at shortstop, and his future double-play partner, Shannon Penn, 25, could spell Whitaker at second. And Danny Bautista, 22, and Bobby Higginson, 24, will platoon in rightfield. Curtis, who stole more than half as many bases as all the Tigers combined last season, brings much-needed speed to the lineup and a good glove to centerfield.
Dare we say that when the 1996 season rolls around—after Gibson, Trammell and Whitaker have most likely departed—the Detroit lineup will consist entirely of twentysomethings, except for slugging first baseman Cecil Fielder, now 31. "All the young guys know that Alan and Lou are big fan favorites, so we expect them to be a little more skeptical of us when we're in there," says Gomez, who is accustomed to living in the shadow of greatness, having attended Grover Cleveland Elementary in Lakewood, Calif., alongside Calvin Broadus, who is better known now as Snoop Doggy Dogg. "But we all know the torch must be passed to us sooner or later."