Detroit Lions & Tigers Ownership Different But Both Miss Ultimate Goal

Oct 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford speaks with former player Barry Sanders before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford speaks with former player Barry Sanders before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions’ failure over the decades has often been chalked up to poor ownership, but the Detroit Tigers solid ownership still hasn’t been able to accomplish that final, ultimate goal.

We’ve heard the arguments for years from Detroit Lions’ fans that the perennial pattern of suckitude the franchise has found itself in for the better part of six decades is due to ineffective ownership.

It’s hard to argue against this logic on the surface. Since William Clay Ford bought a controlling interest in the team in 1963, they’ve had 15 winning seasons (out of a possible 53 seasons). They’ve made the playoffs 11 times, finishing first in the division just thrice.

More from Detroit Jock City

Anytime yet another coach fails, Matthew Stafford throws an interception, and the defense allows the opponent to score at will, fans are quick to point out that the Ford Family (now under the control of Ford’s widow, Martha, after his 2014 death) doesn’t care about winning and only enjoys the profits that every NFL team reels in from gouging their fan base win, lose, or draw.

Hands-On Ownership

Contrast that with the Detroit Tigers of recent years, where the ownership, led by Mike Ilitch, has spent money hand over fist in a continued noble, yet failed, attempt to capture a World Series title before the 87-year owner leaves the Earth.

How the Tigers are run these days is in sharp contrast to the early years of the Ilitch regime when it was acceptable to have 90+ losses every season while playing in front of barren crowds night after night in Tiger Stadium and Comerica Park.

For readers too young, or too disinterested at the time, to remember Tigers’ baseball pre-2006, it was not pretty. It was common for callers to phone the lone Detroit sports’ talk radio station, WDFN, to complain about “The Toledo Mud Hens big league affiliate,” and loft the talking point that “Mike Ilitch only cares about the Detroit Red Wings. I’ll hang up and listen.”

That all changed when Ilitch and the fan base were humiliated as the franchise hit rock bottom with an American League-record 119 losses in 2003. Then, and only then, did the seeds of today’s Tigers take root.

Emotional Involvement 

Sometimes an owner being too emotionally invested in a team can be bad. The fact that the Dallas Cowboys, a once proud NFL franchise, have not won anything in two decades is often credited to their spotlight-loving owner Jerry Jones. While the early days of the Jones’ ownership in Dallas led to three Super Bowl titles in less than 10 years, his moves since then have amounted to nothing.

Unlike Jones, Ilitch is not around the Tigers every day, and rarely attends games or press conferences. These days that may have a lot to do with his declining health, but even when he was completely healthy he was rarely around.

Where the emphasis is felt is with his directives to his general managers, recently Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila. While fans have enjoyed plenty of great baseball over the last 10 years thanks to the ownership’s renewed interest in the Tigers, there have been some negatives.

Possible Mistakes

One could argue that Ilitch overreacted with the termination of Dave Dombrowski last year. Teams take steps back and forward all the time, so when the Tigers were sellers at the 2015 trading deadline it probably shouldn’t have resulted in the GM’s termination (or retaining his top lieutenant, but that’s a story for another day).

It was recently reported that Illitch wanted Baltimore slugger Chris Davis so bad in the 2015 offseason that he was willing to offer the hit-or-miss slugger over $200 million to sign in Detroit. In one of his wisest moves, Avila talked him off the ledge. Instead, the team used some of that money to sign Justin Upton, whose final two months helped keep the Tigers in the race until the last day of the season.

Rewind a few years when the organization was publicly livid with Max Scherzer for rejecting a six-year, $144 million deal in Spring Training 2014. In his post-Cy Young season, Max was betting on himself to get more from the Tigers, or in free agency, and won big time with a 7-year, $210 million contract that was structured so Scherzer will be getting paid by the Nationals well into retirement.

This led to DD apologizing for some uncharacteristically harsh comments about his then star pitcher, though these probably came from the boss, who admitted last fall that he was “irked” when Max asked for more money than they had offered. This anger was apparent when the team made absolutely no effort to sign Scherzer as a free agent following the 2014 season.

No Silver Bullet

As you can see, there’s no silver bullet with ownership. Certainly as long-suffering Lions’ fans, we’d love to see them win a division here or there, and win some playoff games even if it doesn’t ultimately result in a Super Bowl championship. This would parallel what the Tigers have experienced in the last decade.

Once a little bit of success is felt, as we’ve seen with the Tigers’, the team has to go all the way for a season, or an era, to be considered successful by many fans. Whether that is the right or wrong mindset, its just the way sports is these days: win it all or bust. So if the Detroit Lions finally got onto the Detroit Tigers’ current path, Super Bowl titles would be expected.

Next: What They're Saying About Lions Win Over Rams

It’s not like the Ford family doesn’t care. Bad luck, wrong moves that looked good at first, and sticking with people far longer than they should has been this franchise’s downfall. The Illitch family has done all it can to get the Tigers to the promise land, but whatever they do just doesn’t seem to work out.

It seems that Bob Quinn is building a strong foundation. Ford Field is being spruced up and the game day experience is better each year. It may take more than this season, but the Lions are building something. We as fans just have to have patience–again.