|Monday, April 8
Updated: April 17, 5:59 PM ET
'Here we go again' not acceptable for Dombrowski
By Jayson Stark
The manager hadn't had a winning season in a decade. The general manager once traded Luis Gonzalez for Karim Garcia.
No American League team has gone longer since its last winning season than the Detroit Tigers. No team in either league had gone longer this season without winning a game. And the new club president was a former general manager hell-bent on changing the mindset of a team whose favorite slogan seemed to be: "Here we go again."
So . . . looking for the perfect formula to get a manager and a general manager fired? That would be it, all right. And Monday, right there in the town that once made Henry Ford famous, Phil Garner and Randy Smith found that out the hard way.
Did they deserve this? Well, it's a bottom-line business. And in the case of Garner and Smith, the record shows their line in Detroit had a bigger bottom than Rich Garces.
But did they deserve to get fired one week into the season? Heck, we would argue that nobody in baseball deserves to be fired six games into the season.
We don't care if they were 0 for 2002. We don't care if their team got shut out every day for a week. We don't care if they got swept by the Devil Rays and the Altoona Curve.
One week of a baseball season isn't meaningless. But like an ink blot, you can make it look like whatever you want it to look like. And the fact is, Phil Garner and Randy Smith were both endangered species the minute Dave Dombrowski walked through the door of the Tigers' corporate offices.
So after a week of almost unparalleled ugliness -- even by the Tigers' disastrous April standards -- Dombrowski banged the gong on both of them Monday. But here's our question:
If all it took to get them both fired was one lousy week, why did he even keep them this long? Why didn't he fire them this winter, before the manager ran his spring training, before the GM could put this particular team's pieces in place?
It's a question a lot of people in baseball were asking Monday. And they had every right to be asking it.
The short answer, according to people familiar with Dombrowski's thinking, is this: He wasn't happy with the way Garner ran spring training. And to Dombrowski, the Tigers' 0-6 start just proved his thesis that his team simply wasn't ready for the season.
But Smith's firing appears to be part of a more complicated answer. And Smith's record in Detroit explains only part of it.
We'll gladly say this about Randy Smith: He's a quality human being who did an excellent job of reviving a horrendous farm system. But the mistakes he made in putting together his big-league team are undeniable.
He decided to move Gonzalez to make room for Gregg Jefferies. He then traded Gonzo for Garcia. He once traded Phil Nevin for Nick Skuse. He made that blockbuster trade for Juan Gonzalez, then hung onto him all year and got nothing to show for him but a year of pouting and a draft pick.
Those are the kinds of mistakes that follow a general manager around. And those are the kinds of mistakes that can get a general manager fired.
But do they get a general manager fired a week into a season? Not unless there are other forces at work, they don't. In Detroit, though, those forces were scattered all over Comerica Park, like empty seats.
Dombrowski wasn't brought to Detroit to sit in a club box and watch another season go gurgling down the drain. He was brought to Detroit to revive a franchise that had fallen down and forgotten how to get back up.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that we asked Dombrowski if he understood why a franchise with so many things going for it had fallen to these depths, and what it would take to reawaken the passion his fans once had for this team.
"We need to give them a reason to come out, for more than just the love of the game," he said. "They want to see progress now with our organization. They've sat through the losing years. They don't want to necessarily be patient. They want to see progress being made."
Well, 0-6 wasn't progress. It was, "Uh-oh, here we go again." And what happened Monday in Detroit was just Dave Dombrowski's way of telling Tigers fans that "here we go again" was no longer an acceptable attitude -- from anybody.
Phil Garner and Randy Smith got that message loud and clear Monday. Whether anyone else gets it will take a lot longer than one week to determine.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.