The 2003 Detroit Tigers–the title alone just evokes images of nameless players and empty seats. That year the Tigers set the American League record with 119 losses.
It was a team so bad that only a handful of name are recognizable for reasons other than answers to trivia questions focused
on ineptitude. Mike Maroth was the “ace” of the staff with a 9-21 record and 5.73 ERA. There was no closer, unless you count Franklyn German’s 5 saves to go with his 6.07 ERA. Except for a young Carlos Pena, the lineup was filled with a ton of has-beens or never-weres. Dmitri Young, Bobby Higginson, Craig Monroe, Eric Munson, Brandon Inge–these were the BEST players on the team.
Ironically, the manager and bench coach of this team were the current duo that serves the same roles for the NL West Champion Diamondbacks, only in reverse. Alan Trammell was the manager and Kirk Gibson the bench coach of the 2003 Tiger squad. It was too perfect of a scenario–the heros of 1980s Detroit Tigers baseball would lead the 2000s Tigers back toward baseball significance after a decade and a half of irrelevance. Only, it didn’t work out that way. The Tigers eventually made it back to contender status in the American League, but not until Tram and Gibby were looooooong gone–as the immortal Ernie Harwell would say. That’s not to say that 2003 was completely their fault. On the contrary, 2003 would have been a lot worse if not for the duo keeping the Tigers together late as true infamy approached–the 1962 Mets.
Trammell would have been crazy to turn down the chance to manage a big league club, even if it was merely a publicity stunt to draw any crowd while current GM Dave Dombrowski started to undue years of damage inflicted by former GM Randy Smith–the Matt Millen of baseball GMs. Trammell and Gibson suffered through that entire season of loss after loss and learned from it. Never was that more evident than in the final games of 2003. The Mets MLB record of ineptitude of 120 losses was all but a given when the Tigers stood at 38-118 with six games left.
The Tigers some how went 5-1 over their final six games to avoid that distinction. After losing their 160th game by a run, they fell down 8-0 to the Minnesota Twins in game 161 just to battle back to win the game 9-8. They also won game 162 and thus avoided the moniker of worst season ever. When the easiest thing in the world would have been to roll over and die, Trammell and Gibson were able to get just enough out of a talentless squad to avoid history.
The duo stuck around long enough to see improvements by means of 72 and 71 win seasons in 2004 and 2005, but the Tigers went a different direction and so did Tram and Gibby eventually finding their way to Arizona. Where now they’re behind the helm of an honest to goodness contender made just a little bit better because of the 2003 Detroit Tigers.
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