Skip to main content


In mid-December the suburban Detroit mansion once owned by Cecil
Fielder went up in flames. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the
blaze, including Fielder, who sold the house in May. One inferno
the 32-year-old first baseman cannot escape, however, is the one
that engulfs the Tigers, a burning building of a franchise that
finished 60-84 last year and will be hard-pressed to forge a
winning season before the millennium. Assessing the
conflagration recently, one Detroit official said, "Team motto:
We're bad."

Since winning their last division title in 1987, the Tigers have
gone through four general managers and countless other
front-office people, all of whom were long on short-term fixes
and short on long-term remedies. Under the new regime of general
manager Randy Smith and field manager Buddy Bell--who replaced
Joe Klein and legend Sparky Anderson, respectively, in the
off-season--the philosophy has changed. "Whether we win five
games isn't important," says Smith. "It's important that we find
out about people."

Toward that end the team payroll, which escalated to a major
league high $56 million at the beginning of the 1994 season, has
been slashed in half. Erratic slugger Phil Plantier, who was
signed away from Houston for $500,000, and former Padres first
baseman Eddie Williams qualify as Detroit's only significant
off-season free-agent additions--a rather admirable show of
frugality for a franchise that in the last five years spent
wildly on middling, past-their-prime free agents such as
pitchers Tim Belcher and Mike Moore. The new Tigers brass is
committed to the youth movement. Past Detroit front offices were
reluctant to rebuild.

Not that there aren't grounds for skepticism. The Tigers farm
system remains as infertile as the Gobi, having produced just
one impact major leaguer, third baseman Travis Fryman, in the
last eight years. Detroit was once the envy of the major leagues
for its ability to turn out such homegrown pitching talent as
Jack Morris and Dan Petry (263 combined wins during the 1980s).
But the Tigers' Opening Day pitcher for the last two years was
the since-departed Moore, whose 7.53 ERA was the ninth highest
ever by a starter with more than 100 innings pitched. Last July,
Anderson was so flummoxed by the performance of his pitching
staff, which had the majors' second-worst ERA in 1995, that he
told pitching coach Ralph Treuel and bullpen coach Jeff Jones,
"Don't waste one second worrying about this. You don't have
enough smarts to straighten this out. This is unstraightable."

There are still some vital signs, though. Fielder, Fryman and
centerfielder Chad Curtis are proven run producers. The Tigers
lineup should be buoyed by the addition of Plantier (34 home
runs in 1993), whose power to rightfield is ideal for Tiger
Stadium. By the end of last season even Anderson was encouraged
by the progress of pitchers Greg Gohr, Felipe Lira, Jose Lima,
C.J. Nitkowski and Clint Sodowsky in Detroit and Mike Drumright
and Justin Thompson at Double A Jacksonville. Those pitchers
should continue to improve under Bell, who earned high marks for
his patience with young players when he was the White Sox's
director of minor league instruction from 1991 to '93.

All the same, Smith will have to look elsewhere for young talent
to upgrade both the big league team and the farm system. A lack
of marketable players, however, will keep the 32-year-old deal
maker from trading for the front-line prospects he covets.
Fielder, with his $9 million salary and a bad back that has
increasingly restricted him to a DH role, is virtually
untradable. Fryman is coveted by many clubs, but the Tigers
don't want to part with their All-Star. If anyone is moved,
Curtis, 27, is a likely bet: Despite his compelling numbers last
season, his strikeout-to-walk ratio (93 to 70) is alarmingly
high for a leadoff man. And though he covers a lot of ground in
the outfield, Curtis often gets poor jumps on fly balls.

Regardless of what moves Detroit makes, its prospects for 1996
are about as promising as Lamar Alexander's. But Smith is
optimistic. "I've learned you can't do things because people
want you to do them," he says. "I have to make what I think is
the best move for the organization. I think two or three years
from now they'll say we made a great choice."


COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON With a $9 million salary, Fielder isn't likely to be part of any Tigers fire sale. [Cecil Fielder in game]


1995 Team Statistics (AL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .247 (14)
Home Runs 159 (7)
ERA 5.49 (13)
Fielding Pct. .981 (11)

Champagne Shortage

New Tigers manager Buddy Bell is one of 13 men to have played in
at least 2,000 major league games in this century without ever
appearing in a postseason game. Among those players, Bell is the
seventh to hold a managerial job in the majors; only one of
those men, Joe Torre, ever reached the playoffs as a manager
(Torre did it with the Braves in 1982).

Most Games as a Player Without a Postseason Appearance

Years Games

Ernie Banks 1953-71 2,528
Luke Appling* 1930-50 2,422
Mickey Vernon* 1939-60 2,409
Buddy Bell* 1972-89 2,405
Ron Santo 1960-74 2,243
Joe Torre* 1960-77 2,209
Toby Harrah 1969-86 2,155
Harry Heilmann 1914-32 2,146
Eddie Yost 1944-62 2,109
Roy McMillan* 1951-66 2,093
Don Kessinger* 1964-79 2,078
George Sisler* 1915-30 2,055
Cy Williams 1912-30 2,002

*Managed in the major leagues


At the start of spring training in 1992, righthander Greg Gohr
was considered one of the front-runners for AL Rookie of the
Year. But Gohr never made it out of the minor leagues that
season, and over the last three years he has shuttled back and
forth between Detroit and Triple A Toledo, struggling to
overcome control problems and an assortment of injuries. Gohr
returned to the big leagues last September fully recovered from
a torn right rotator cuff, and he finally realized the potential
that had led the Tigers to make him the 21st overall pick in the
1989 draft. In 10 1/3 innings he allowed only one run and struck
out 12 batters. In one inning against Toronto on Sept. 10, he
threw 14 pitches, all strikes. This season Detroit hopes that
Gohr, now 28, will emerge as the team's closer.



CF Chad Curtis .268, 21, 67, 27
2B Mark Lewis[*] .339, 3, 30, 0
3B Travis Fryman .275, 15, 81, 4
DH Cecil Fielder .243, 31, 82, 0
RF Phil Plantier[*] .255, 9, 34, 1
LF Bob Higginson .224, 14, 43, 6
1B Eddie Williams[*] .260, 12, 47, 0
C John Flaherty .243, 11, 40, 0
SS Chris Gomez .223, 11, 50, 4


IF Alan Trammell .269, 2, 23, 3
OF Danny Bautista .203, 7, 27, 4


RH Sean Bergman 7-10, 5.12
RH Felipe Lira 9-13, 4.31
RH Jose Lima 3-9, 6.11
RH Clint Sodowsky (R) 2-2, 5.01
LH C.J. Nitkowski 1-4, 7.09


RH Mike Christopher 1, 3.82
RH Joe Boever 3, 6.39
RH John Doherty 6, 5.10
RH Greg Gohr 0, 2.87 in AAA

[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie