by Kian Davies
Revisiting the Detroit Tigers
Last season, I found myself enamored by a scrappy young team that was ending their dismal season on a high note. After three GM changes and a myriad of issues with on-field and off-field performances, it seemed things were finally going their way. The Detroit Tigers, who entered Session 13 with a 3-9 record, battled to finish the season 7-11. And being the gambler I am, I picked them as the 2018-19 Paper Cup champions, a sleeping giant ready to be awoken.
By Session 9 of this season, they were 3-6.
It had plenty of precedences. Penny Lane, after rallying behind his team in the last Detroit-centric article, left for their division rival for a self-titled "Super Team" in Cleveland. He had only two innings beneath his belt as a Tiger. Their draft picks from a hefty 2018 class proved to be unspectacular. Xander MacAnder retired before too long, and Randy Pinkwood has dwelled on the hiatus list for some time now. The re-admitted Master Cashier was having difficulties finding himself as a pitcher. Everything seemed to be unraveling, another season of disappointment looming.
But John Johnson Jr. is a special kind of general manager. He doesn't quit, he doesn't give up and roll over to the next season. He got to work adding to his team, mending its problems, and defining its strong suits.
"The main thing was getting Cash up to speed as a pitcher," Johnson Jr. explained. Master Cashier became an outfielder for the Tigers halfway through the 2017-18 season, after retiring as General Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. He was described by Johnson Jr. as one of his best bats that season. And when Cashier entered the draft as a pitcher, he couldn't resist lapping him back into the organization.
Johnson Jr. was adamant to get Cashier into shape before anything else, to turn him into an effective arm. Things hadn't worked out well for him in the first half of the season.
"This season started out rough for me, and my record [still] isn't the greatest," Cashier told 501d. "But I'm close to leading the league in innings pitched, and I'm finishing the season strong."
The Detroit general manager also worked on signing new names, in order to keep the clubhouse active and fresh. He pursued Doc Jaam, the retired former Arizona general manager, as well as Neiko Thorpe, a talented young catching prospect that arrived late in the season.
"[I] signed because of a few factors, like playoff hopes, playing time, and the laid back, quiet vibe the team had," Neiko Thorpe explained. "[The] atmosphere is great."
The Tigers, being a respectable organization, also made sure to retain names such as Otis Nixon Sr., a longtime reddit-only outfielder who has been on the club since the Inaugural Draft. Nixon Sr. is one of many aspects that Johnson Jr. analyzed as a pivotal part of the team, and integral in rebuilding a winning culture.
"Otis has been a good improvement this season," said Johnson Jr. "He's hit some clutch shots at times. [I] still maintain he is one of the best reddit-only hitters, purely on his character."
And a winning culture was beginning to form. Since their 3-6 record, the Tigers have gone on a six-game winning streak. They find themselves embroiled now in a tough AL-Central title fight with the Kansas City Royals, a team that has been on top for the entirety of the season.
"The streak has kinda come out of nowhere," admitted Johnson Jr. "I'm not gonna lie, when we were 3-6, I said in the [manager's] office that if we slipped further to 3-7, I'd start looking for a successor immediately."
He paused and added, "Then suddenly things picked up, we made FA signings, and the wins kept coming in."
Players are eager to come up with reasons for their team's surge to the top.
"This is just something I've noticed in passing," commented Pete Goldinger, whom the team signed during Session 8 of this season. "Everyone has been a lot more communicative recently."
"We are playing for each other, and just playing loose," added Master Cashier. "We had nothing to lose and just started playing. We've been building momentum these last few games but [Dick Woolridge] really started it with his performances. I've learned a lot about pitching from Dick."
As the players began patting each other on the back, general manager John Johnson Jr. raised his voice.
"That's another thing," explained Johnson Jr. "Everyone here's humble. We don't have any big personalities that could clash. We're probably seen as quiet on main [Discord]."
Master Cashier laughed and added, "We are the team everyone forgets about."
And perhaps this is a dangerous thing for opponents. Detroit is a speeding bullet, well in position to clinch their first playoff berth in their team history. There's plenty of work to do, but the resolve and determination and clubhouse spirit are clearly there, well more vibrant and alive than many other playoff-contending teams. And that's not something to be forgotten, that's something to be feared.
As I wrote this article, Master Cashier was deep into a perfect game bid. After 6 games of victory, of hard work and finding themselves, this club just keeps rising to better things.
As I wrapped up my interview and tour around the Detroit clubhouse, a familiar face ambled in, a coffee cup in his hand that smelled mysteriously like alcohol. Doc Jaam hung up his coat, sat down amongst his teammates, and had one thing to say before I left.
"Did you know tiger penis sells for $1,300 on the black market?"
The Tigers are still winning the Paper Cup.