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It was a Simchas Torah to remember in the Detroit area.
In an explosion of simcha, while we were engaged in hakafos, fans downtown were celebrating a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning that sent our hometown Tigers to the World Series.
In an informal shul poll, conducted while the St. Louis Cardinals were battling the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, every respondent wanted the Tigers to play the Mets, not the Cardinals, in the World Series. Detroiters, it seems, wanted the Tigers to beat both New York teams. (The Tigers, you may recall, had trounced the New York Yankees in the playoffs before rolling over the Oakland A’s in the ALCS for the right to represent the American League in the World Series.)
Tigers manager Jim Leyland wouldn’t say so publicly, but he was rooting for the Cardinals against the Mets. Before being lured back to managing by the Tigers after the 2005 season, Leyland worked for Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa – his best baseball buddy – the past couple of years as a scout reporting on National League teams.
Me? I wanted the Mets because I feel a slight attachment to their manager, Willie Randolph.
It was December 1975 and I was the boss of a national baseball monthly publication. I’d assigned myself to cover the baseball winter meetings in Orlando, Florida.
Peter Gammons, then of the Boston Globe and now of ESPN, wrote a column for my publication and had followed Randolph’s minor league career in the Pittsburgh Pirates chain. Rumors abounded in the pressroom of a pending trade between the Pirates and the Yankees. Gammons clued me in as to Randolph’s abilities, even though at that point he’d appeared in only 30 big league games, hitting a paltry .164 in 60 at-bats.
I went up to my hotel room to daven Mincha and returned to the pressroom just as the announcement of the trade was being made. Pittsburgh writers said Randolph was a good kid from a hard-working Brooklyn family.
I saw Randolph often over the following years as he played and coached with the Yankees, though we didn’t exchange more than a couple of words. I was happy for him when he became manager of the Mets two years ago.
Frankly, while Randolph is a great guy and a wonderful family man, he’s not yet an elite manager and was outmanaged in the NLCS by Tony LaRussa. As mentioned above, I’d been rooting for Randolph and the Mets to take on the Tigers in the World Series, and while I’m a lifelong Detroit area resident, I would have wanted the Mets to win the World Series against the Tigers in seven games.
The Mets have Jewish owners and I figured – hoped – that some good Jewish charity would benefit from the Mets’ success. The Tigers’ owner is Mike Ilitch, who also owns, among other holdings, a national pizza chain and the Detroit Red Wings hockey club. He’s a non-Jew and, in my opinion, a non-mensch. I say that because I was working in the Tigers’ front office when he bought the team in 1991. Many long-time employees were fired, including a secretary who’d served the Tigers loyally for five decades under three different ownerships. The philosophy seemed to be, Why keep long-time employees who get maximum vacation time and make more money than those just starting out?
I’ll never forget what the head of the business department told me: “I think they’re keeping me just to pick my brain, and when they think they have the information they need to operate with someone who makes less money, I’ll be gone.” Four months later, late on a Friday afternoon, he and his secretary were escorted out without warning by a guard.
I will say this for Ilitch: He’s great for the fans. He spends money on his players and on player development and he’s not afraid of signing high-priced free agents in his efforts to build a winning team.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner also has a history of firing employees. But despite his legendarily gruff exterior, Steinbrenner is actually a caring and compassionate man. Even when he fires someone for one reason or another, he invariably finds a way to extend some form of support – paying an individual’s rent, for example, or taking care of college tuition for a former employee’s child.
I was once sitting around with a group of people as Steinbrenner was holding court, giving his views on several subjects. “I believe in the golden rule,” he declared. “And since I have the gold, I make the rule.”
* * *
St. Louis, of course, beat Detroit in the World Series in five games. Detroit would have hosted games six and seven, so the city lost out on some big revenue. I was sorry for the business establishments that had anticipated a windfall and for the stadium vendors who lost a chance to work two more games.
Players only share the income generated by the first four games – that way they can’t be accused of prolonging the Series for monetary gain. An owner – I can’t mention his name – once told me he’d rather his team lose the World Series in seven games than win in four. He’d get the extra income from concessions and parking, and he’d have an easier time negotiating contracts with players – after all, they wouldn’t be winners.
I’m hoping the Tigers get to the World Series again next year. The only thing I’d bet on at this point, however, is the Yankees once again winning the American League East. The Yanks are far better than any team in their division – Boston’s a distant second.
While the Tigers have several solid minor league prospects, which may enable them to fill holes via trades, they face stiff competition in the Central Division. Chicago and Minnesota are tough and Cleveland could be back in contention with the right trade or free-agent signing.
If the Mets add a good starting pitcher to their rotation, they should find themselves back in post-season play – this time making it to the World Series.
Baseball drew an all-time record number of fans in 2006, and there’s no reason the figure won’t be even higher next season. Barry Bonds is closing in on Hank Aaron’s all-time home run mark, the Tigers are drawing more fans both on the road and at home, new manager Lou Piniella should reinvigorate the Chicago Cubs, the game boasts a slew of young and exciting stars, and the Yankees and Mets can always be counted on to make news.
About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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