Interviewing Dan Dickerson – Part I

Dan Dickerson had one of the toughest jobs in sports – the guy that replaced Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell. Dickerson does play-by-play of Tiger games with Jim Price. Before becoming the voice of the Tigers Dan held a number of broadcast jobs in Detroit including two years of play-by-play for University of Michigan baseketball, and fill-in play-by-play for Michigan football.

Dan was kind enough to do an interview with DTW. Dan was very generous with his time, so the interview is quite lengthy. Part I is below, and Part II will be posted once it’s transcribed (hopefully in a day or two).

DTW: You grew up in the area (Detroit), when did you become a fan?
DD: I went to my first Tiger game in 1967 at Tiger Stadium. The 1967, 1968 teams really hooked me on baseball. Especially the end of 67, because I was just old enough, I was 8 when it went down to the last out. I do remember watching those last few games and of course the 9-1 start in 1968 and that team just had me hooked on baseball.
DTW: Did you have a favorite player as a kid?
DD: Willie Horton was it, he was. Al Kaline, absolutely, but there was just something about Willie as a kid that just captured my imagination. It looked like he could hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate. I think that really got me going, and I just didn’t miss an at-bat on radio or TV if I could possibly help it. I just thought he’d hit a home run every time.
DTW: Now you find yourself broadcasting for the team you grew up with. When you started off in broadcasting, was it your dream doing play-by-play for the Tigers?
DD: Nope, I never really thought that was a possibility. I remember telling my mom once when I was in my teens, that I was going to replace Brent Musburger someday, that was my dream. The Tiger job to me always seemed out of reach.

I loved sports, and every job I got in radio was news related. I kept trying to get into sports full time and I did for one year in Grand Rapids. When I came to Detroit it was news at WWJ, and part time sports. I was always working to get in sports, but it was just a little bit here and there. Then I did some Lions pre-game and post-game stuff. It was 1995 and it took me 15 years to get a full time sports job and that was a reporter – not play-by-play.

The thought I’d be the Tigers play-by-play guy was out of reach until the late 90’s.

DTW: You did play-by-play for Michigan basketball, how long did you do that?
DD: Two years. What got me into the Tigers booth started in 1995 when I got to WJR. I’d go out to the Silverdome and practice my football play-by-play. Ray Bentley, the former football player came over from Grand Rapids and he wanted to practice his color, so we made tapes together just practicing. I gave the tape to Chuck Swirsky, who was the sports director at WJR. There was a need for a fill-in guy for Michigan football two weeks into the season. He told me you’re the guy. They wanted him to do it, but he said “No, Dan’s ready.” To me that was the biggest break because then I got to be known as a play-by-play guy in Detroit, versus a play-by-play guy doing high school stuff in Grand Rapids.

That was the break that led to Michigan basketball. And those two things combined made me a credible play-by-play person and got me into the Tigers booth.

DTW: Did you have any apprehension following a legend like Ernie Harwell given the reception that Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun had received a few years earlier?
DD: Not really, just because I’d been in the booth for 3 years with him. I think if I was coming from out of town it’s almost an impossible task. whether it’s Detroit or any other town where they’ve had a broadcaster for a long time (pity the guy who follows Vin Scully in LA). Unless it’s a local guy, I think that’s important, someone that you know and are familiar with. I didn’t really have that much apprehension. I think Ernie really helped smooth the way for me.
DTW: Not to mention it was completely different circumstances
DD: Yeah, he was going out on his own terms. That’s a big difference
DTW: You’ve broadcast some pretty disappointing seasons. Does the job become more difficult with the team out of contention in August?
DD: Put it this way, I think it would be a lot more fun if they were playing meaningful games in August and September. The first 3 years on the job we had some not good season in 01 and 02, but in 03 when I was doing the job after Ernie I was really wondering what it would be like at the end of the year. That team started 3-25, that number sticks in my head, and there are numbers you can pull out and just keep going. And I wondered what August and September were going to be like. I really found out in 2003 that the job never got old. I can’t think of a day where I dreaded going to the ballpark or having fun on the job.

It really goes back to some advice Ernie gave me early in my career, when in 2001 the Tigers started 9-23, and that was supposed to be a pretty good team with the Juan Gonzalez trade and the deals they made. I said “How do you do this?” This was my team, they are 9-23 and I was down. He said “Remember, every game stands on its own.” That advice was very simple but it really stuck. You might see something you’ve never seen before, you might see a great individual performance, you might see a great game between two bad teams. And it’s true, it sounds so simple and I think all fans realize that, and that’s why you have fans at games. For some reason, just to hear him say that, it really stuck with me and I found it’s true. In 2003 there was always something to look forward to, like a pitcher on another team. I always looked forward to Jeremy Bonderman’s starts because you never knew when he might do what he did in Oakland when they were 1-18. I think 2003 really drove home the point this is the best job you can have, because it never got old.

DTW: Being a big fan of the team before becoming the broadcaster, do you find yourself worrying about being too much of a homer? How do you balance it?
DD: It is a bit of a balance. I think it helped to listen to Ernie all those years, because as a listener I appreciated he always gave a good call to both teams. Obviously the better call was to the Tigers. I think there’s a bit of a fine line in that you don’t want to get too down or too up. I think you can let a little bit of the fan in you out during a broadcast. If there’s a disappointing play or a game ending home run that goes the opposite way, you have to make sure you strike the right tone and not be overly down – or over the top. Although I do think I’ve probably gone over the top a few times.
DTW: But those were really exciting moments (laughing)
DD: (laughing) They were, so I guess they deserved it. But I guess Ernie helped, and I try to think about what I want to hear.
DTW: You’re employed by the team. Does it ever get uncomfortable, or do you find yourself censoring yourself because you’re employed by the team?
DD: Yeah, I think you have to. I think that’s the reality even if you aren’t employed by the team, and my first year I wasn’t. I think that’s the reality of being a play-by-play person is that you do a little bit of self censorship, but it’s not to the detriment of the broadcast I don’t think. I think it means you don’t get into the things like the soap opera kind of stuff that gets in the papers sometimes. It’s legitimate reporting, but it’s not something that I believe needs to be in a broadcast unless it has spilled over and is so obvious. It’s like the elephant in the corner, you have to talk about it at some point. I think Jim and I have found that there are times, and I’ll bounce it off of him “We should probably talk about this today.” We’ll bring it up, acknowledge that it happened, whatever it is, and then just kind of move on from there.

But I think there is some of that, and it’s part of being a play-by-play person. You learn some things being so close to the team that other people might not learn. You learn things in confidence from players that gives you some perspective about what’s going on that you’re not going to use in a broadcast. I think it helps the broadcast because you’ve learned about it and you have the perspective in the back of your brain.

In terms of criticizing the team, as a listener I don’t want to hear a lot of criticism of the team anyways. You can certainly point out they’ve lost 8 out of 10. I don’t hesitate to talk about if their pitching has gone well. I’ll try and point out the stretch they’re in. If it’s going bad I’ll point out the stretch they’re in without dwelling on it too much or repeating and repeating. The game is still there, you have to call the game, but I think you can point out the good and the bad as long as you don’t over do either – especially the bad. I’ve never had anybody from the team say anything to me about “you have to be more positive” or “you’ve got to watch what you say about this.” Hopefully that means I’m walking the line and bringing up both the good and the bad.

Continue Reading Part 2

Interviewing Ernie – Part 2

Continuing on with my interview with Ernie Harwell. Click here for part one.

DTW: Since the format of the Veterans Committee was changed, there have been two elections, and nobody was elected. Do you think that?s appropriate, or do you think that the Committee will be changed again?

EH: Well, I think they might tweak it, but I think one of the strengths of the Baseball Hall of Fame is that it?s more difficult to get into than most other halls of fame in sports. And I?d like to keep it that way. I don?t think it?s really bad that you don?t elect anybody. But I also think that probably, in the long run, that the Veteran?s Committee is something that time has bypassed. I think most of the people that really belong in there, with a few exceptions, have been selected by the writers. I don?t like the idea of the second chance that is symbolized by the Veteran?s Committee. I know a lot of people disagree with that because there are some players that are on the cusp, on the margin there that I?d like to see in. But I like that it?s tough to get in.
DTW: My favorite player is Lou Whitaker, does he have a shot?

EH: I don?t think so. I think the voting that we?ve seen indicates that he wouldn?t have much of a chance. He?s very deserving if you look at the stats, and compare him with second basemen who are in there. He ranks right near the top I?d say, but there are a lot of things that factor in. One of them is exposure in the World Series. One of them is the media center in New York. I think a lot of things get factored in and he doesn?t have much of a chance.
DTW: So the same fate is probably true of his Tiger teammates like Trammell as well?

EH: Regretfully I have to say it does. His showing in the balloting just wasn?t strong enough to give us any optimism that he?ll get in.
DTW: Given the recent steroid allegations, if they came up on the VC ballot, would you vote for some of the guys who?ve been accused/suspected like Bonds and McGwire?

EH: I think I?d vote in favor of those two guys.

I really think the steroid situation will die down in a little while. It was brought to the attention of Congress and I think it?s a good that it?s out in the open. And I also felt that baseball could have avoided that if commissioner and players union had gotten together earlier and had nipped it in the bud, and issued a strong policy against steroids which they didn?t do. And they still haven?t done.

Although it was a great embarrassment to baseball, I think it?s good that it came out and maybe something will happen now to strengthen the ruling about using steroids.

The way I feel about records is that you have to take them as they come. I don?t believe anybody would be able to figure it out. Let?s take say Barry Bonds, and you were to make some asterisk to his home run total. I don?t know how you?d figure out when he started taking steroids, or if he did. It?s such a murky situation. I think we sort of have to just accept it, and as we talk about it just say ?well, he probably took steroids while he was playing.?

DTW: Does this just become another era like pre-segregation, WWII, the spitball era, the deadball era?

EH: Yeah, I think so. I think you?ve got to say back in 1909 guys were hitting less than 10 home runs and leading the league ?that was one era, just like you said. Then the spitball came in and went out and that was another era. Then you had the so-called lively ball coming in. Way back you had moving the pitching mound back to 60 feet, 6 inches. And you have more changes like that. You have smaller ball parks, bigger guys, and there are so many variations that come and go in baseball. I think this just has to be another one.
DTW: Speaking of eras, is there one you are most fond of, or would have like to have seen?

EH: I sort of would have liked to have been around during the dead ball era. I think that was pretty interesting. First the ballparks were primitive. The equipment wasn?t very good. But, maybe things were a little purer then, about the game than they are now. Though they had a lot of rascals, and a lot of things happened that they?d [laughing] put an evil eye on now. But from a standpoint of what we knew how people followed the game at that time, it was really more just a game. The only way people followed the games those days was through the newspapers. You didn?t have the investigation, and all the pressure and media attention that you have now that puts the spotlight on everything and digs in the dirt and brings out somethings we don?t want to know.
DTW: Over the years I know you?ve amassed a large collection of memorabilia and artifacts. Are there a couple that are most special to you?

EH: Well, I?ve gotten rid of most of them because I gave them to the library. The Detroit Public Library has most of my stuff. And when we moved in 2003, I just couldn?t bring the stuff with me so we had an auction. An auction house in Chicago auctioned off what was left that I didn?t give to the library. So I really don?t have anything anymore. I had a Babe Ruth check at one time. I had my World Series rings, a replica of the 1968 World Series trophy. I had signed pictures from guys. I was proud of all those things, but you?ve got to move on.
DTW: To wrap things up, I?m going to ask you about some of your favorites
DTW: What was your favorite season to call?

EH: Well, I think that it is probably 1968 or 1984. They were pretty equal. 1968 a little bit more maybe because it followed the riots and it was a longer interim between championships between ?45 and ?68 than ?68 and ?84. So I think that one would probably be my favorite.

Ebbetts field in Brooklyn was really great for me because it was my first job, and I really liked the people. The Dodgers had a contending team, a pennant winner my second year there.

There?s so many things. You know the Giants won in ?51 and that was a great thrill. Just going to Baltimore and being the first announcer there was a great break for me as well.

So it?s hard to put your finger on, but I?d probably say it?s the ?68 Tigers.

DTW: Favorite manager?

EH: I?ve got a lot of them. The guy I like the best out of all the managers I worked with was probably Sparky. I think he was probably the best manager that I saw. I liked Durocher, he was a good sharp one. Bob Scheffing was one of my personal favorites. Although he didn?t last too long, we were real close friends. Paul Richards was another one that I had a lot of admiration for. He taught me more about baseball than any of the other guys.
DTW: Favorite umpire?

EH: [laughing] I guess Nestor Shylack. I liked his attitude. I liked his enthusiasm. I liked the way he approached the game. I liked the way he was fairly liberal with not tossing guys out. And he was an excellent umpire. There were a lot of great ones, but I think probably he was my favorite.
DTW: Most interesting baseball character?

EH: I tell you we could make a list of a hundred of those. Norman Cash probably. Clint Courtney was another one. A fellow named Ray Murray in Baltimore, a sort of a journey man catcher was another one. Mark Fydrich. And Ted Williams was always an interesting personality I thought.
DTW: One of my favorite things about listening to you call games were the anecdotes that you?d sprinkle throughout the broadcast. What are a couple of your favorite baseball stories?

EH: Well you know, everybody has a different reaction I guess. One of them that I liked a lot was the rookie in the Southern League. Joe Engel was sort of the Barnum of Baseball in the minor leagues, sort of an early Bill Veeck. He had a shortstop that was holding out. In those days a telegram was a big deal. You negotiated by Western Union. He got a telegram from this guy who said ?Pay me $5000 or count me out.? So Joe Engel sent back a telegram that said, ?One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten.?

Another one I like is Gene Mauch, when he retired as a player he actually got a hammer and nails and nailed his shoes up against his locker.

Those things, there?s millions of them and it is sort of hard to put your finger on one. I sort of like the one about the two-tone bat. It started when Dixie Walker went to Louisville and he found a bat in a bucket of paint. About half way up the bat was one color, and the rest of the way up the bat was another color. That started the two-tone bat.

But all those things I like to delve into them because they are a little bit different.

At this point we wrapped things up and I thanked Mr. Harwell profusely.

He was very generous with this tims, and very patient with me as I nervously stumbled through my questions. I grew up listening to Ernie, and the number of times that he and Paul Carey put me to bed at night were countless. I’d set my clock-radio to ‘Sleep’ and listen as long as I could stay awake. When I shared that with Ernie his response was simply, “we sure cured a lot of insomnia.”

The biggest thrill for me doing this interview was listening to Ernie talk about some of his favorite stories. Each story on its own isn’t that remarkable. However, it is all the small stories, like the ones he shared, that seperate baseball from the other sports. It’s the funny quotes and situations that can only be born in the midst of a summer long schedule. When the stories are combined they form the fabric of the games itself. And to hear Ernie tell the stories in his own voice, that is what baseball is all about.

I know that some of you commented in the other post that you could hear Ernie saying the words as you read them. I exerienced a similar phenomenon while conducting the interview. Hearing him talk was so second nature, I almost forgot sometimes that I was having a conversation with him, and not listening on the radio. It was a tremendous thrill for me to do this, and I hope that you guys enjoy it.

Interviewing Ernie – Part 1

For those who have lived in the metro Detroit area, there is one voice that is instantly equated with summer. That voice belongs to Mr. Ernie Harwell. Harwell called Tiger games from 1960 through his retirement in 2002 (except for a messy 1992 season). Prior to coming to Detroit, he worked for Baltimore, the NY Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

He’s called no-hitters, World Series’, Willie Mays debut, Bobby Thomson’s shot heard round the world, and has seen and experienced the game like few others have. He remains the only announcer to be acquired via a trade (Branch Rickey sent Cliff Dapper to the Atlanta Crackers in exchange for Harwell). Harwell’s distinctive voice and no frills attention to detail led to a longevity that made evenings at the cottage with Ernie a tradition and rite of summer.

Mr. Harwell was kind enough to spend a morning speaking with me over the phone. Here is part 1 of that interview:

DTW: How is your retirement going?

EH: Well, retirement is going beautifully. I just took another direction, I’m still as active as I was, I’m just not doing play by play. I’m the spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield. We signed a ten year contract with a ten year option so I’m going to have to live to be 106 to fulfill it. But I’m going to do it or die trying, one or the other. It keeps me busy. I do a lot of speaking, a lot of commercials. They use me on the billboards at Ford Field, Comerica Park and all over Michigan. It’s been pretty productive for us and it’s been a great association.

Also I’ll be writing my column for the Free Press. It starts next week and I’ve been doing it every summer for 15 years now.

And in addition to that I do about 27 vignettes on FSN Detroit that they use. Just sort of stand up and tell a story and reminisce a little bit.

And other than that I’m just sort of hanging around here. I don’t miss the play by play much. I did it for seven decades and 55 years, so I feel like that was enough. I did enough damage and I’m just going to let other guys do it now.

DTW: Do you still follow the Tigers closely?

EH: Yes I do. I went down to spring training. I got to schmooze around with them a little bit. I had dinner with Alan Trammell and some of the other guys. I keep an eye on them, more as a fan now than as a worker. But, I don’t follow them quite as closely, naturally, because I don’t travel with them. But I go down to the ballpark now and then.
DTW: Do you watch the games on TV or listen on the radio?

EH: I listen on the radio most of the time, but if there’s TV I might look a little bit at that.
DTW: Do you have a prediction for how they’re going to finish this year?

EH: Well, I think everybody’s optimistic, but that’s part of it being spring time you know? I feel everything is going good. I think they’ll be better. I’m not quite as optimistic as some people. So much depends on that young pitching staff. We’ve got to wait and see if they continue to be promising and see how they establish themselves as major league starters.
DTW: Speaking of spring training and optimism, you started a tradition of reading a verse from the Song of Solomon (2, 11:12), the Voice of the Turtle. How did that begin?

EH: Well, I had been in Detroit for quite a while before that started. I’d say it was probably in the mid 70’s or early 80’s. I don’t have any idea that I can put my finger on it precisely. But I was reading that in the bible and it sort of struck me that this reminded me a lot of spring training and Opening Day, and I began to use it and people picked it up so I kept on using it.
DTW: Before coming to Detroit you were with the Dodgers, Giants, and Baltimore. What was it about Detroit that made it your final destination?

EH: Detroit was always a favorite city of mine when I traveled in the American League when I went to Baltimore in 1954. The first two games the Orioles played in their new Major League situation were in Tiger Stadium. I used to come to Detroit with the Orioles and I really liked the town a lot, and made some friends here. Then when Van Patrick was out as the announcer after the 1959 season, the Tigers got in touch with me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in leaving Baltimore. I felt like I had a good job there, and I was very happy there but I’d be foolish not to listen to an offer. They made me a good offer and I decided I’d come.

The franchise at that time was a well established franchise. It was a great baseball town, Michigan had terrific support for the Tigers. All those things enticed me to come here.

DTW: George Kell was involved in you coming to Detroit, as the two of you had met in Baltimore, and he was currently with the Tigers. Do you still keep in touch with Mr. Kell? I know that he’s had a rough streak.

EH: He’s had a tough time. I’ve called him several times. The last time I called him he couldn’t’ get to the phone, but I talked to his wife Carolyn. He has had a struggle.

When he was playing he got hurt in Baltimore, and he was up and around the press box so I said come on, get on the air with us. He did a few innings on the radio with us and seemed to like it. Then he got a job with CBS on the pregame show. He landed a job here [Detroit], and when an opening came up he called me in New York right at the end of the season in ’59. He told me the Tigers were interested in me and asked if I’d come. So there was a little payback there and we had a great association.

DTW: One anecdote I heard about you in the booth is that you would set an egg timer to remind you to give the score. Is that true?

EH: I did that for a little while, but that was sort of a Red Barber thing. He did that in Brooklyn, and would give the score and then turnover the egg timer. But it took a little bit too long I think, to drain the sand out and I felt you ought to give the score a little more often than that. I really made that my number one priority. If you don’t do that the listener really can’t set himself or herself psychologically as to how to listen to the game. I believe that’s the first thing that an announcer has to do is to keep people informed about what the score is.
DTW: You called a number of significant moments, like pennant clinching games and no-hitters. Is there anything that you would do to prepare for those dramatic ninth innings?

EH: I never did that. I just thought it would be more effective if you just react to whatever happens. You can never anticipate how it’s going to happen. Sometimes, like Aaron’s homer you can look forward to, but it’s too contrived to prepare what you’re going to say. So I always just let it go and react in the way that it hit me when the event happened.
DTW: Calling the last inning at Tiger Stadium, you did something very uncharacteristic for you and ignored the action on the field to read a tribute. Were there any other times that you broke away from the game like that?

EH: No, I’d prepared a little bit of a speech there as I remember it. I felt like I had to do that. It was uncharacteristic, you’re right about that. I can’t remember another time. I think in Baltimore we came back and did something after the game was over. And I think in Toronto [Ernie’s final game] we did it right at the end of the game.
DTW: As part of the speech you prepared for the last game at Tiger Stadium, you referred to the stadium as , “My home, my office, my refuge…A timeless gift to the past.” What do you think should be done with Tiger Stadium and what do you think of it standing empty.

EH: Ideally I think they should make some kind of a shrine out of it. Maybe keep it alive and have sandlot baseball or something like that. But it seems like it is such a large problem to get money to maintain it, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think eventually it will either fall down or be the victim of the wrecking ball.

I know a lot of people in the years since the closing of the stadium had been imminent have had grandiose ideas about what to do but, nobody has come up with any money. They have a lot of neat things that they think should happen, but nobody comes up with the backing. I just don’t think it’s going anywhere.

DTW: At this point would you rather see it knocked down or have it sit there and rot?

EH: Well, I think so. It’s a matter of practicality. I think it would probably cost a lot more money to knock it down than have it fall down. Either way it is going to be a sad occasion, but I think the better way to do it would be to have the wrecking ball take over.
DTW: In your Hall of Fame induction speech, you read an essay you penned in 1955 called “Baseball – A Game for All America.” It’s been 50 years since you wrote that. Does it still hold true for you, and would you change it at all?

EH: Oh yeah, I’d bring it up to date. I’ve been tempted to do that. I think ESPN or CBS or somebody had a TV game opening the season and they asked me to change it a little bit and I did for that occasion. But I always felt that I should leave it as is. If I ever recite it I always say that times have changed and a lot of things have happened to the game, good and bad. But I really think the spirit of the game between the lines is pretty much the same as it was.

I’ve had people know it’s written in 1955 because you say things like Honus Wagner hit a triple 46 years ago [laughing], and there are a lot of great players that aren’t even mentioned in that. You have to be selective when you make it. For instance I didn’t mention Ted Williams although he was contemporary then. Then people that came later like Hank Aaron, and Roger Maris, and Barry Bonds aren’t even in there. That’s why I think it’s better to keep it the way it is and give a little preface.

Part 2 will becoming in the next day or two once I get a chance to transcribe it, and we’ll talk about the Hall of Fame, the Veterans Committee, and steroids in baseball.

My interview with Dave Dombrowski

Tigers President/CEO/General Manager David Dombrowski was kind enough to do an interview with DTW. The discussion touched on trends from the off-season, player development, and a look forward to the 2005 season. The theme throughout is that if the Tigers are going to have success, the improvement will have to come from within the organization.

Despite the Tigers and other AL Central teams trying to acquire free agents this offseason, once again most of those players migrated to the coasts. New York and Boston can offer players more money and the chance to play for a winning team. The west coast can offer players a great place to live, and in some cases a truck load of money (LA, Seattle, and somehow Arizona). The Central can offer a colder climate and much less money. Dombrowski recognizes this, “For the clubs [in the Central division] from a financial perspective it’s hard to compete for players with the upper echelon clubs because the dollars just aren’t there. You have to practice some fiscal responsibility. To be successful you’ll have to have successful farm systems. Minnesota has had success with their farm system. Cleveland is starting to have success as well. There may be occasional situations when people come to your city, but you have to develop players.”

Unfortunately for the Tigers, they have had difficulty producing talent from the farm system for more than a decade. While Tigers fans might not see money being invested in marquee free agents this year, there is an investment going towards improving the Tigers’ talent base. The Tigers hired David Chadd from Boston to become their new scouting director, and James Orr as Assistant Scouting Director. They have also increased their presence in Latin America. The Tigers have tried to “be more aggressive in signing players,” said Dombrowski who mentioned prospect Wilken Ramirez as an example. The Tigers also have improved facilities to work with in the Dominican Republic. They are now leasing Luis Rijo’s baseball facility which is a “much nicer place to bring players to and train them,” according to Dombrowski.

For Tigers fans that are tired of watching losing baseball, the investment in the minors may be of little consolation. To that end the Tigers did pursue free agents this year, but they didn’t get in all out bidding wars and avoided contracts that may be regrettable (i.e. Juan Gonzalez who was offered an 8 year contract by the Tigers is looking to sign a minor league deal now). The Tigers are in a “very solid position going forward,” Dombrowski said. The Tigers only have 3 players under contract beyond this season (Guillen, Percival, Rodriguez). What’s more, is that the Tigers young core of Infante, Bonderman, Maroth, Robertson, Ledezma, and others will still be at least 2 years away from free agency.

When asked if he felt additional pressure to build off the momentum of last season’s improvement, and capitalize on the increased revenue with the All Star game Dombrowski replied, “No, I don?t feel any additional pressure. I don’t think this year makes it different than any other year. You always want to put the best team out there. We’ve had some good things happen. What will continue the interest in the club is the club’s continued improvement.” Dombrowski believes that the club will continue to improve through the improvement of the young players. The thinking is that if the veterans can make their core contributions (performances typical of their career), the resulting improvement will come from the continued growth of the young players.

Two players who are looking to join that young core, Chris Spurling and Fernando Rodney, both underwent arm surgeries. Dombrowski said that both are progressing well. Spurling was throwing during the instructional league and Rodney is right on track. Alex Sanchez who missed the second half of the year with a hamstring injury is fully recovered.

As for Dombrowski’s takes on the off-season:
On the length and price of contracts and how if insuring contracts is still an issue:
“The insurability hasn’t changed. It is still out there. It may be that more clubs are willing to take the risk.”

On why more clubs haven’t worked out contracts similar to Pudge’s that have an out clause for specific injuries:
“Without getting into all of the details, it was a rather unique situation in Pudge’s case. A lot of things would have to fall into place.”

On the surge in big, long term contracts:
“Every year the off-season seems to take its own direction. You’re never sure what to anticipate. The industry had a healthy year last year. Also, a lot of contracts came off the books this year. It surprised me to the extent that the dollars and length went up.”

I’d like to thank Mr. Dombrowski for taking the time to talk with me. As someone who has watched this team closely for a long time, it is great to see members of the organization take such an interest in their fans. Keep in mind that this is a “fan site.” While I try to post news and insightful commentary (big emphasis on “try”) I’m by no means a journalist. Mr. Dombrowski had no obligation to spend time talking to me, and I wouldn’t have been the least bit offended if he declined my request.