DETROIT - It's simple. Unless owner Mike Ilitch makes a complete financial and philosophical makeover, what you see with this year's Detroit Tigers is what you'll get next year.
The Tigers boast the worst record in modern baseball history since the 1962 New York Mets. Last night's exciting 9-8 comeback win over the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park left Detroit with a 42-119 record, one loss shy of equaling the major league record for most losses in a season.
Whether it's 119 losses or 120 losses - what difference does it make? Fifty years from now, all anyone will remember is that the 2003 Detroit Tigers were the worst team to come down the pike since the Mets lost 120 games.
When people around the country mention the Tigers, they're not going to discuss the franchise's proud tradition of Hall-of-Fame players and World Series winners. They're going to point to the ballclub that disgraced the Old English `D.'
Forever, it seemed, the Tigers had one consistent theme going for the organization. No matter what, their fans stuck with them.
No more. Frustrated fans are sticking it to the Tigers by avoiding Comerica Park. Detroit's baseball fan base is dwindling. Only 14,277 tickets were sold for the Tigers' final Saturday-night game.
What the Tigers do have, however, is an ownership mentality of let's-do-something, even if it amounts to nothing.
Ilitch deluded fans and media into thinking a new manager, albeit one with no previous managerial experience but immensely popular, would change the Tigers' culture for the better. It didn't.
Despite his record, Alan Trammell's job is secure. If Trammell wants to manage the Tigers, he probably can for next year. Trammell is important to Ilitch for two reasons: He's immensely popular in Detroit and he's among the lowest-paid managers in the majors.
I'm giving Trammell the benefit of the doubt because I see how much he cares about the Tigers and their fans.
He's embarrassed by all the losing. He wants to win.
But part of Trammell's job responsibility is to get the Tigers to play hard, play smart and play with passion. Trammell's Tigers not only didn't show improvement, they regressed from the team that lost 106 games a year ago.
They still play lousy defense and make plenty of mistakes. They rarely play relaxed, even though they've been out of the playoff hunt since April. They lack confidence. For that, Trammell should be held accountable.
Trammell would be the first to say that; he has said it - repeatedly. But, guess what? He's going to be managing the same players next year.
And don't think it can't get worse next year, because it can.
General manager Dave Dombrowski has already gone on record that the Tigers won't look a whole lot different in 2004.
But until that magical, mystical moment occurs, the Tigers are what they are.42.33168 -83.04792