Rebounding from World Series loss is a tough task

Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera walks off the field after the San Francisco Giants clinched the 2012 World Series.

In baseball, hope springs eternal this time of year. Each and every team is still undefeated in regular-season play and fans can think of 263 or so reasons why THIS IS THE YEAR for their favorite nine. Sure, in many cases the fans are delusional (sorry, you folks in San Diego and Seattle), but in Detroit the optimism is far from misguided. After all, the Tigers made it all the way to the World Series last season. They fell short – a polite way of saying they got clobbered – but a return trip to the Fall Classic seems almost a given for the talent-rich Tigers, who many oddsmakers are installing as favorites to take it all in 2013.

Not to rain on the planned parade down Woodward, but if local history is any guide, making the leap from Series runner-up to world champs in a single season will be a long shot for Verlander, Cabrera & Co. Only once in the Tigers’ century-plus history has the team rebounded from a World Series loss to claim the championship the following October. That was in 1935, when Mickey Cochrane’s talented crew avenged the previous year’s loss to St. Louis by beating the Chicago Cubs.

Including 2012, the Tigers have lost the World Series seven times in their history. (They’ve won it four times, in 1935, 1945, 1968, and 1984.) While it still remains to be seen what the new season has in store, we can revisit how the team responded the season following each of their World Series disappointments.

1908: After dropping the 1907 World Series to Chicago, 4 games to 0 (not including a tie in the opener), the Tigers, led by Ty Cobb and Wahoo Sam Crawford, eked out a second straight flag in a four-team pennant race that wasn’t decided until the final day. At 90-63, Detroit finished a half-game ahead of Cleveland. Unfortunately, history repeated itself, as the Cubs whipped Detroit in the 1908 World Series, 4 games to 1.

1909: Two straight October losses to the Cubs had the Tigers fired up to prove they belonged in the same class as the senior National League. Spurred to prove their critics wrong, Cobb won the Triple Crown and George Mullin won a league-high 29 games as Detroit finished 96-56. Sadly, Honus Wagner’s Pittsburgh Pirates won the decisive seventh game of the ’09 Series at Bennett Park.

1910: Following three straight pennants and October failures, the 1910 version of the Tigers finished a distant third with a 86-68 record, 18 games behind Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Cobb, Crawford & Co. led the league in runs scored, but their pitching let them down – they finished 6th out of 8 teams in ERA.

1935: A squad comprised of four future Hall of Famers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin, and Hank Greenberg), still smarting over losing the seventh-game showdown of the ’34 Series to Dizzy Dean and the “Gas House Gang” Cardinals, won a second straight flag with a 93-58 record. Even with Greenberg missing most of the World Series with a broken wrist, the Tigers went on to beat the Cubs in six games to claim the franchise’s first world’s championship.

1941: The 1940 Tigers had surprised everyone by winning the pennant, and their 2-1 loss to Cincinnati in the seventh game of the Series still stung when the ’41 edition broke spring training. But the Tigers reverted to middling form, losing Greenberg to the draft early in the campaign and finishing in fifth place with a 75-79 record.

2007: The Tigers returned 22 of 25 players from the roster that had lost to St. Louis in five games in the 2006 Series. With fan interest at its highest since leaving Tiger Stadium for Comerica Park, the club drew 3 million fans for the first time. The team disappointed, however, finishing runner-up to Cleveland with an 88-74 mark and failing to win a wild-card berth. The Tigs still scored plenty of runs, finishing second only to the Yankees in runs, but their pitching, which was 1st in the AL in ERA in ’06, fell more than a half-run to 9th in the circuit.

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About Richard Bak

Richard Bak grew up on Detroit's west side doing poor imitations of Dick McAuliffe's batting stance and Denny McLain's leg kick. He is a contributing writer to Hour Detroit magazine and the author of nearly 30 books, including biographies of Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. Bak's most recent books are The Big Jump, the story of Charles Lindbergh and the great New York-to-Paris air race of the 1920s, and Detroitland, a collection of his history pieces. He currently is finishing two more books of history: Soldier of Misfortune: The Execution of Private Eddie Slovik and Its Aftermath (DaCapo) and When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties (Wayne State University Press), both of which will be published in 2015.