When Detroit Fans think of curses, one thing comes to mind — the Lions. Believer or not, the possibly ficticious statement from the then traded Bobby Layne that the Lions “wouldn’t win for 50 years” definitely came to fruition. The Lions had next to no success — one playoff win — in that era which culminated in an 0-16 season exactly 50 years after Layne’s rumored proclamation. However, this curse might be over. From the depths of a historic ineptness arose hope for the Lions and their fans — QB Matthew Stafford, the #1 overall pick following 0-16. Stafford’s ascension has correlated directly with the Lions revival. If the Layne curse is indeed lifted, does that mean that we’re curse-free as a fan base? Perhaps not.
Starting in the early 1960s, the Tigers managers have had an ominous run. Two years before winning their 1968 World Series, the curse of the Tigers managers might have started. The team saw two managers pass away in the same season. Chuck Dressen and Bob Swift both died while managing the Tigers in 1966. This ushered the way for Mayo Smith. The uncelebrated manager won the championship in 1968 but was ousted in ugly fashion, verbally attacking Tiger fans through the media and perhaps ruining his place in their history.
Billy Martin — the most controversial manager in all of baseball history — was up next. His rocky tenure as Detroit skipper ended when he was fired for ordering Tiger pitchers to throw illegal spitballs in 1973. Even the departure of Sparky Anderson was highly questionable. We’re told that Anderson retired on his own, but rumors of his forced departure will always exist. After Sparky took a stand against replacement players during the labor strife of 1994-95, he sealed his own fate. It’s not surprising since he left in perhaps the darkest era of Detroit Tigers baseball — where even Ernie Harwell got fired.
The remaining cast of Tigers managers since the 1960s consists of names who failed miserably (Ralph Houk, Buddy Bell, and Phil Garner), former stars who were overmatched (Larry Parrish and Alan Trammell), and those who barely made cameos (Joe Schultz, Les Moss, and Luis Pojols). None of them worked out well and all departed on less than amicable terms.
This leads us to now. Current Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has had modest success with the Tigers. In 2006, he got them closer to a championship than they’ve been in two decades before suffering a perplexing drubbing at the hands of the underdog St. Louis Cardinals. 2011 saw a the first division championship in 24 years, and a date with the juggernaut Texas Rangers in the ALCS. In a gift wrapped 2012 season, the Tigers are failing to run away with the AL Central. The Chicago White Sox are giving the Tigers a far bigger challenge than anyone expected. In an apparent reversal of their 2006 roles — the Tigers were the upstarts, the White Sox the favorites — the Tigers are getting all they can handle.
If Jim Leyland can’t win the division — or minimally secure a wild card — it’ll be a major failure and likely the end of Leyland in Detroit. Leyland has been given all the tools to prove that the curse doesn’t exist. He can win the division, the World Series and walk away as a beloved manager of this team proving there is no curse. The only thing standing in the way is the Chicago White Sox — and perhaps the ghosts of a couple of managers from their past.