This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
The Detroit Tigers are a proud organization with a rich history. Some of the greatest players of all time donned the Tigers uniform. From Ty Cobb to Hank Greenberg to Al Kaline to Kirk Gibson. The Tigers are an important part of the history of baseball.
However, in 2003, the Tigers made history for all the wrong reasons. The Tigers lost 119 games that year, breaking an American League record set way back in 1916 by the Philadelphia Athletics, who lost 117 games that season. In fact, only the 1962 New York Mets and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders lost more games than the Tigers.
The trouble began for the season started, as the Tigers lost key players in the offseason. Staff ace Jeff Weaver was traded to the New York Yankees for prospects who didn’t pan out. Closer Juan Acevedo also went to the Yankees via the free agency route. Acevedo had 28 saves for the Tigers in 2002. Second basemen Damion Easley signed with Tampa Bay. Right fielder Robert Fick joined the Atlanta Braves. And designated hitter Randall Simon signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Tigers tried to offset those losses, by making some acquisitions on their own. However, they were unsuccessful in luring free agents to the Motor City, so they had to rely on prospects and minor leaguers throughout the season. The one notable signing was pitcher Steve Avery who was trying to revive his career after battling arm injuries.
When the season began, the Tigers quickly showed they were going to be horrible. The Tigers lost their first 9 games of the season by a combined score of 50-14. They weren’t just losing, they were getting hammered like 19-year-old college student at a frat party. By the end of the season the Tigers finished 43-119, a whopping 47 games back of the first place Minnesota Twins, in the American League Central.
Rookie manager and former Tiger great Alan Trammell was at a loss for words, on what went wrong with the Tigers that season. Whatever he tried in terms of motivation, changes to the lineup, or superstitions, just didn’t work for these toothless Tigers.
The Tigers were last in runs scored with 591, last in batting average, with a paltry .240 average as a team, and last in RBIs with 553. The Tigers were caught stealing more than any other team in the American League, with 63 outs being made while trying to steal a base.
Tigers pitching wasn’t much better. The starters were last in complete games with 3. The relievers were last in saves with just 28 saves spread throughout 8 different pitchers. Keith Foulke of the Oakland Athletics had 43 saves on his own in 2003 just for comparison. The Tigers were last in strikeouts, fanning only 764 batters in 2003. Finally the Tigers had the second worst ERA in the American League as they finished with a 5.30 ERA. Only the Texas Rangers had a worse ERA with a 5.67 ERA.
The one player who had a decent season for the Tigers was designated hitter Dmitri Young. The left-handed power hitter had a solid season at the plate for the Tigers, leading the team in average (.297), homers (29) and RBIs (85).
Left fielder Craig Monroe showed potential with his 23 home runs and 70 RBIs.
Centre fielder Alex Sanchez led the team with 44 stolen bases, but was caught stealing 18 times which led the American League.
The pitching was awful to say the least. Mike Maroth led the team with only 9 wins. Even worse, he led the major leagues with 21 losses. His 5.73 ERA is quite atrocious for someone who was considered the ace of the pitching staff.
Teammate Jeremy Bonderman was second in the majors with 19 losses. Bonderman only won 6 decisions in 2003 while compiling a laughable 5.56 ERA.
Nate Cornejo was third in the majors with 17 losses while putting up a 4.67 ERA which was an improvement, but still a little league team could score on this rotation.
Steve Avery never made it to the rotation, as his chronic arm problems continued to plague him in the Motor City. Avery made just 19 appearance with the Tigers before retiring at seasons’ end.
The bullpen was a mess to say the least. The Tigers blew 19 save opportunities in 2003, while going with a closer by committee rotation. Franklyn German and Chris Mears shared the team lead with a mere 5 saves apiece.
Fernando Rodney did show some potential with a 100 MPH fastball. However, it was his only pitch at the flamethrower only had 3 saves while compiling a 6.07 ERA.
When the season finally ended, the Tigers were able to make some necessary changes. The additions of Ivan Rodriguez, Rondell White, Ugeth Urbina and Carlos Guillen were huge stepping-stones for the Tigers. In 2004, Detroit made a 29 game improvement from 2003, although it wasn’t too difficult to improve from that wretched season. However, they improved very little in 2005, which cost Trammell his job. Jim Leyland replaced him and the Tigers had a magical 2006 season going all the way to the World Series. Players such as Bonderman, Maroth, Monroe, Rodney and Brandon Inge who were part of the 2003 disaster, played major roles in the glorious 2006 season.
The Detroit Tigers were anything but glorious in 2003. In fact Tony The Tiger could have done better than these Tigers. Because the 2003 Detroit Tigers weren’t GRRREAT at all.
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