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Published: Tuesday, 4/11/2000

So far, Garner one of the few Tigers showing much confidence

DETROIT - New Detroit Tigers manager Phil Garner is getting out of the prediction business.

Garner said the Tigers would carry a winning record into the first game in Comerica Park, scheduled for today. Instead they're 1-5, which translates into the worst record in the majors.

Garner also said the thermostat would hit 70 degrees for today's home opener against Seattle. The weather forecast calls for snow with a high temperature in the 40s.

Garner wore his smiley face yesterday when evaluating the Tigers' slow start.

He made no predictions but was full of promise.

Twenty-four hours after ripping into his team following their 11-6 loss at Baltimore, Garner offered revealing glimpses as to why general manager Randy Smith tendered him a four-year, $4.8-million contract - the seventh-highest manager's contract in baseball - more than Mike Hargrove in Baltimore, Bobby Valentine with the Mets, Dusty Baker in San Francisco and Charlie Manuel in Cleveland, despite posting seven consecutive losing seasons in Milwaukee.

Garner believes in the Tigers, who opened 1999 with a 1-6 record and started the season 4-17 two years ago.

"We had a team meeting (Sunday) and we don't need to be thinking about the past when we do these kind of things," Garner said after the Tigers completed their first workout in Comerica Park. "We're in a new century. We're a new ballclub. We're in a new stadium. We don't need to feel sorry for ourselves because we played poorly in some of these first few games. Let's pull ourselves up by the seat of our pants and go out and play well. I think we can, and I think we will."

The Tigers have always held team meetings when things go wrong. Does making excuses for losing take away from finding reasons to win?

Not with the new manager.

"I've made enough speeches this last week that I don't need to make any more," Garner said.

Garner's top-drawer salary ensures that he will be around long enough to make mistakes, with time left over to correct them. Those are luxuries that the previous two managers, Buddy Bell and Larry Parrish, never had with the Tigers.

Smith has too much money invested in Garner. Last week he blamed Parrish and Bell for losing control of their players early in each of the last two seasons, but has said nothing while the Tigers played just as poorly in their first week under Garner.

Detroit's players can read between the dollar signs what's going on.

Garner is getting paid big money. We'd better listen to what he has to say.

It's the same principle applied by NBA teams that give coaches multi-million-dollar contracts to get the attention of their star players.

Last year Parrish coddled his players, rarely criticizing them in public.

Garner, conversely, doesn't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings, other than the GM and owner Mike Ilitch.

Garner said yesterday that some Tigers, specifically first baseman Tony Clark, second baseman Damion Easley and third baseman Dean Palmer, were feeling the pressure during the first week of the season.

"We want them to push, but we want them to use that anxiety and little extra energy that anxiety gives you, and channel it in the proper way," Garner said.

"The psychological part of teaching this ballclub how to win is how to use that to your benefit."

Clark agreed that the Tigers of two years ago or even last year wouldn't be confident after getting off to a slow start. He said the difference this year is that players are starting to display signs of growing up and learning from previous mistakes.

"In the past we would have (panicked)," Clark said yesterday. "With what we've gone through the past few years we had to have learned something.

"We just haven't played very good baseball. We're not going to be hitting the panic button."



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