Tigers are an easy club to love
Maybe it's just me, but it is impossible to hate the Detroit Tigers, or even to strongly dislike them.
I'm not referring only to this season, but to forever.
No question, Ty Cobb had more than a few (ahem) issues, and Tigers officials weren't exactly in the forefront of the civil rights movement during the 1950s since they joined the Boston Red Sox as the last teams in the Major Leagues to employ a player of color.
That said, what is there not to like about guys with the coolest home uniforms this side of Yankees pinstripes?
For nearly eight decades, the Tigers have taken the field in Detroit wearing white jerseys, white pants and an old English "D" on the left side of those jerseys and on their navy caps. Those uniforms are likely a reason many have ignored the brutal economy in Michigan this season to keep Comerica Park nearly 80 percent full.
Here's another reason: The Tigers are good. They are very good. They also are soaring, while suggesting with their bats, arms and gloves that they will fly deep into October.
They aren't the only team hinting of postseason success. The Philadelphia Phillies have the best record in the Major Leagues, and the New York Yankees still are the New York Yankees. You also have those other three division leaders -- the Milwaukee Brewers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers -- who had records in the vicinity of the Tigers' 87-63 before Detroit's game Friday night in Oakland.
The difference is that none of those other teams roar as dramatically as the Tigers. This goes beyond the fact that Detroit has 36 comeback victories. And prior to Oakland's 6-1 victory on Thursday night, the Tigers had a 12-game winning streak, their longest since 1934. They also had won 22 of their 26 games since mid-August.
It's the players.
The manager, too.
As for the players and the essence of the 2011 Tigers, everything begins and ends with Justin Verlander, their pitcher with the fastballs that exceed the speed of light. His 23 victories lead the Major Leagues. The same goes for his 238 strikeouts, 236 innings pitched and 27 quality starts. And nobody in the smash-hitting land of the designated hitter called the American League has a lower ERA than his 2.36.
In addition to the Verlander story, the Tigers have the intriguing tale of Miguel Cabrera, a talented but troubled soul, who nevertheless has stayed focused and potent after his DUI arrest in Spring Training. He is contending for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Closer Jose Valverde is contending for "Dancing With The Stars," or so it seems. He has the nickname for celebrity -- Papa Grande. He also has the sparkle, since he has a tendency to get rather excited after strikeouts and victories. He punctuates his special moments on the mound with various yells and gyrations. He also can pitch. He is 43-for-43 in save situations this season to own the team record for consecutive saves.
Elsewhere, the Tigers have the sizzling bats of Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Plus, team executives watched newcomers within the last few months such as outfielder Delmon Young and pitcher Doug Fister bring more fire to their roster. Not only that, manager Jim Leyland has turned into a genius again -- just as he was during the last glory days of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1990s and throughout his run to a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins in 1997. He also has his quirky side. While the San Francisco Giants had Audrey Huff's red thong along the way to winning the World Series last season, the Tigers have Leyland's soiled underwear.
Before the Tigers' loss on Thursday in Oakland, Leyland admitted to reporters that he had worn the same underwear throughout the club's winning streak. Said Leyland later on the Tigers' postgame TV show, "This is kind of one of those good news, bad news. The bad news is we lost, the good news is I can change my underwear after 12 days."
The late Sparky Anderson never did the underwear thing. Even so, he also was colorful as the Tigers' manager, with his silver hair, ever-present pipe and phrases that were a little Casey Stengel and a tad Yogi Berra. He was one of baseball's all-time top ambassadors. He began his managerial career in Cincinnati with the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, but he spent 17 of his 26 years overall as a manager in Detroit.
Thus, another reason to perennially love the Tigers.
You can add the late Ernie Harwell to the list. He had that poetic voice, and he always wrapped joy around his southern twang to turn each of his radio broadcasts for the Tigers into an instant classic. Some announcers were as legendary as Harwell, but nobody surpassed him.
Tiger Stadium. Remember? It was a combination of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. It was where Reggie Jackson hit that light standard during an All-Star Game. It was where the grass always was so green. It was where you felt as if you could touch the field as soon as you walked inside most of its gates.
It was vintage baseball, standing proudly from 1912 through its final Major League game in 1999. You have to cherish the Tigers for that and for bringing us Al Kaline.
Who didn't like Al Kaline?
When you think of Kaline, you eventually think of Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Norm Cash, the Mickeys (Lolich and Stanley), Denny McLain, Gates Brown, Jim Northrup and Mayo Smith. It was the summer of 1968, and there were horrific political assassinations, and cities were burning across the United States from civil unrest. But all was well in Detroit, because those Tigers were magic.
Then those Tigers won a riveting seven-game World Series that autumn over the St. Louis Cardinals, and except for those around the Gateway Arch, all was well in America -- at least, for a moment.
Those Tigers were more attractive than offensive to the masses away from the Michigan state borders. And, for the most part, the Tigers have been appealing on a national scale in general through the decades, ranging from Sam Crawford to Hank Greenberg to Mark Fidrych to Kirk Gibson to Austin Jackson to everything I just mentioned.
So regarding these Tigers: Go ahead.
Nobody will mind.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TMooreSports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.