When two of your favorite teams have been two of the worst franchises in sports over the last 15 years, it’s crucial to have a defense mechanism to cushion the blow of another train wreck-season. What good does it do to harp on the fact that your team sucks? That’s not fun and it will make you unhappy. Luckily for me, I have two defense mechanisms. The first is draft pick mode. There is a certain time when it’s appropriate for a fan to root against their team for the greater good of the franchise. For instance, when the Lions won on the last game of the 2001 season to get to 2-14, I was infuriated. That was the most pointless win in Lions history. Is 2-14 really any better than 1-15? I could argue that it’s worse. Both records are embarrassing but at least you get a higher draft pick at 1-15.
The second defense mechanism is stat mode. This began for me back in 1989 when the Lions drafted Barry Sanders. As Lions fans adopted the motto “this is the year”, the reality was that no year was the year. It usually took two quarters to realize that nothing was different from the previous season. At this point, you have two choices. You can sit through the game hoping that things will change when you know deep down that they won’t, or you can switch to stat mode. In the Barry Sanders era, I didn’t care who won 90% of the time. All I cared about was how many yards and touchdowns Barry scored. I did the same with Cecil Fielder from 1990-1993. The Tigers had an abysmal pitching staff and no amount of hoping was going to change it. But, Cecil was a home run and RBI machine. I could root for him with a reasonable chance of a payoff. The problem with stat mode is that it’s not always offered. For instance, there was no such thing as stat mode for the 2001 Lions or the 2003 Tigers. Over the past 15 years, there have only been a handful of stat mode-worthy players. The criteria is basically a player on a lousy team whose standing as either an impending rising star or bonified stuperstar is dependent on the stats they put up. Grant Hill definitely fit the description. For five seasons, it was Grant Hill playing 1 on 5 for 82 games a year. Grant Hill gave way to Jerry Stackhouse who took 1 on 5 to a new level. I remember screaming at the TV when any player other than Stack took a shot.
Here’s a list of my stat mode-worthy players over the last 15 years:
Now that you are familiar with stat mode and draft mode, I’m announcing my switch from Tiger fan mode to stat mode and draft mode. Luckily for us, there is a stat mode-worth player on the Tigers right now. From here on out, I devote all my karma and hopes to Jeremy Bonderman. I don’t care if the Tigers lose the rest of their games. I don’t care if they finish behind the Royals or the Devil Rays. I don’t care what happens to Tram or if ten guys hit the disabled list. All I care about is how Bonderman does. If he wins, that’ll satisfy me for a week. I’m hoping for 17-18 wins and a sub 4.00 ERA. In the grand scheme of things, Bonderman has a chance to put up career numbers that will be unreachable for future Tiger pitchers. In the last 20 years, I can count on two fingers the amount of superstars that have played a long, successful career in Detroit and in Detroit only. That would be Steve Yzerman and Isaiah Thomas. If you want to count Nicklas Lidstrom and Joe Dumars then I won’t have a problem with that but those two probably aren't superstars. The point is that Motown very rarely has superstar players that start and end with the team. There is a very good possibility that Bonderman is starting off a long and brilliant career in Detroit.
I’m also switching to draft mode. I know people don’t put much stake into the MLB draft but these are people that haven’t been paying attention. Dave Dombrowski is one of the better GM’s in the sporting world. His drafts have been extremely deep and promising over the last few years. If the Tigers aren’t going to make the playoffs or finish above .500, then I’m hoping for the best draft position possible.