For some years now a strange mirage has appeared each spring over Detroit's Briggs Stadium, an apparition of a sleek muscular Bengal Tiger fiercely promising its beholders the thrill of a captured American League pennant, or, at least, a roaring good hunt for it.
But come autumn, each year, the mirage has disappeared, leaving in its place a tired, toothless old beast, its stripes tattered, its teeth worn by defeat. No pennant has been dragged triumphantly home to Briggs Stadium. Worse, Detroit's feeble Tiger has not even come close to catching one.
Despite this sorry record of perennial failure, Detroiters crowd their way into Briggs Stadium year after year in such numbers (12� million in the last decade) and with such enthusiasm that Sam Greene, genial dean of Detroit sportswriters, calls them "uncomprehending loyalists." Their unreasoning faith has been sustained partly because Detroit has always been a pragmatic optimist, a city which declared it could arm the world, could get the job done, could make more cars than ever before. And their faith has been constantly fed and nurtured by expansive statements about the Tigers from the Detroit front office—and from rival baseball men, too, for that matter, and from sportswriters and other theoretically objective observers. This is a Detroit tradition. It was that way when Walter o. Briggs owned the club, when hi son Spike Briggs ran the organization after the old man's death and when the Tiger property was acquired in July 1956 by an 11-man syndicate.
"We want to bring Detroit a pennant as fast as we can!" cried Fred Knorr, then the leader of the syndic cate. But the Tigers finished fifth in 1956. Manager Bucky Harris was fired, and a "take charge" guy, Jack Tighe, was put in his place.
"We'll finish second in 1957!" said' Tighe, but the Tigers finished fourth.
"This is a pennant contender!" yowled Detroit in 1958, but the Tigers were eighth in June and Tighe was out. In came Bill Norman, the "minor league Casey Stengel." The Tigers won six straight from the New York Yankees and shot up to second place, but then they subsided and finished fifth.
"This is a solid first-division club," insisted the experts in 1959, and the players themselves agreed. In an informal poll this spring they picked themselves to finish second. They did this with a quiet, professional confidence that was very impressive, so much so that when Associated Press Sportswriter Dave Diles (who contributed substantially to the preparation of this article) picked the Tigers to finish fourth in his preseason predictions he received an indignant phone call from the Tiger publicity man, Neal K. (Doc) Fenkell.
"Dave, how could you pick us so low?" demanded Fenkell.
"Doc, how could I pick you so high?" replied Diles. " Detroit hasn't won a pennant since 1945, it hasn't been in contention since 1950, it's been in the first division only once in the last eight years and then it squeaked in. I think I'm being radical in picking you as high as fourth."