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Published: Wednesday, 10/1/2003

The boys of late September

Of course, the difference between the Tigers' 119 losses and the old Mets' 120 is so small that the Tigers have nothing to brag about. The 119 defeats is an American League record, which means it is also the worst in the 103-year history of this storied franchise.

This is a team with serious problems. Though the Tigers' core fans remain loyal as ever, there just aren't enough of them. Attendance was down at Comerica Park again, continuing a slide from 2.5 million in the new park's first year, to 1.3 million this season.

It's easy to say the front office needs to spend more money on quality ballplayers, but a big part of the Tigers' problem is that ownership has spent too much already. More than half of this year's $59 million payroll went to four players, only one of whom - Bobby Higginson - was playing at season's end. That ties up a lot of owner Mike Ilitch's money.

Many Tiger fans also believe that Mr. Ilitch has been far more willing to recruit and pay high-priced talent for the Detroit Red Wings than for his baseball team. He says that will change this off-season.

Certainly a lineup that included many minor leaguers, including several former Toledo Mud Hens, cannot be expected to compete and win. First-year manager Alan Trammell and his staff deserve another chance with better talent, though the energy the team brought to the season's final week and the effort to avoid the all-time loss record prompts a fair question: Where was that passion all season?

Finally, we wonder about Comerica. Money drives the game these days, and a new ballpark was deemed critical to ending a long record of futility and losing seasons. But unlike in Cleveland, where a new ballpark coincided with the arrival of an outstanding team, Detroit continued to lose.

Consequently, older fans who loved Tiger Stadium don't yet feel an affinity for its replacement, and younger fans who want instant gratification demand a winner before they'll spend a hundred bucks on a family outing to Comerica.

It's clear that Detroit is missing the old ballpark, and for that matter, Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell, more than it realizes.

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