Too Bad The Detroit Tigers Can’t Fire Their Owner
There's a sneaking suspicion among fans, the Detroit media, and some MLB circles, alike, that Chris Ilitch isn't really interested in the Tigers.
It's not just that he lacks the passion and love for baseball and the Tigers that his father had in spades, either. There's a belief that Ilitch's dispassion for his MLB franchise verges on downright apathy.
He didn't do anything to quell those rumors on Wednesday.
At the Al Avila post-mortem press conference, Ilitch shifted back and forth between comments where he sounded oblivious about his ball club, deflected responsibility for the Tigers' shortcomings, and appeared incompetent and ineffectual for someone who purports to be a serious MLB owner.
Despite what Ilitch may say, he bears at least some of the responsibility for Avila's failures as the Tigers' general manager. In reality, Ilitch should be held accountable for all of Avila's track record since 2019, when Ilitch gave him a five-year extension.
But even if there had been no extension, any reasonable, rational MLB owner would understand that he/she is ultimately responsible for his/her club's performance — or, in this case, lack thereof. Ilitch made it abundantly clear on Wednesday that he doesn't consider himself to blame for what's gone wrong for the Tigers in 2022, and that's a major problem.
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Accountability for an MLB owner manifests in many ways. Yes, one of those ways is to stand in front of the media and fanbase after a failed rebuild and another ousted management regime. Another way is to share the burden of those failures.
But perhaps the most important manifestation of an owner's accountability in today's MLB is the resources he/she provides to his/her front office. Unlike his father, Ilitch has earned a reputation as more bottom-line-oriented. To wit: The Tigers, fresh off of a surprising 2021 season that led many experts to believe the team could make a legitimate push for the postseason in 2022 with continued development and increased spending on free agents, rank 18th in MLB in team payroll. Detroit is about $14 million below the MLB average for team payroll in 2022.
On Wednesday, Ilitch was less interested in taking responsibility for his ball club and more interested in talking about the role the Tigers' next general manager will play in the franchise's pursuit of its first World Series championship in nearly 40 years. But the truth is that until or unless Ilitch is willing to share the burden of responsibility, via engaged ownership and committing to spending like a serious contender, it won't matter who is at the helm of the Tigers' front office — Detroit will continue to wander the baseball wilderness.