Detroit Tigers' 2022 World Series ties a reminder of franchise's glory days
The Detroit Tigers haven't won the World Series since 1984, with just two appearances since (2006, in which they lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, and 2012, in which they were swept by the San Francisco Giants).
But with the 2022 Fall Classic starting Friday, featuring the Houston Astros representing the American League and the Philadelphia Phillies repping the NL, there are more than a few ties to the Tigers.
Start with the Phillies' front office, led by general manager Dave Dombrowski — who also built the Tigers' rosters for those '06 and '12 runs.
Dombrowski, a likely Baseball Hall of Famer, has guided two other franchises to the World Series (the 1997 Florida Marlins and the 2018 Boston Red Sox, both of whom won it all), for a total of four.
(Compare his Hall credentials to a pair of recent inductees: Pat Gillick led the Toronto Blue Jays and the Phillies to the World Series and won three championships and John Schuerholz took the Kansas City Royals and the Atlanta Braves to the Series and won two titles. Dombrowski, 66, has four and is on the doorstep of Series titles with three different franchises. He would be the first MLB exec with titles from three different franchises.)
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But the Phillies' current president of baseball operations still looks back at the ones that got away.
"There's no question the biggest regret is that unfortunately we never won a world championship," Dombrowski told the Free Press in 2015. "I wish we would have won a World Series here. We were close a couple times, but we just didn't play well at the right time in those particular times."
Two other key participants in this year's World Series have significant ties to the Tigers: Astros right-hander Justin Verlander and Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos.
But don't forget about Rob Thomson, the Phillies' manager. The 59-year-old replaced veteran manager Joe Girardi, fired in early June after a 22-29 start to the season, on an interim basis. (The Phillies dropped Thomson's interim tag Oct. 10, agreeing to a two-year contract and making him the 55th manager in franchise history.)
The Tigers selected Thomson, born in Sarnia, Ontario, in the 32nd round of the 1985 MLB draft. He played baseball for one season at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron, before transferring to Kansas. Thomson spent four seasons in the Tigers' farm system as a catcher and third baseman, batting .225 in 216 games.
He flamed out in Class-A Lakeland in 1998.
Following Thomson's playing career, the Tigers hired him as a minor-league coach for the Lakeland Tigers in 1988 and the London Tigers in 1989. He then went to the Yankees in 1990 and remained in that organization until 2017. He received his first job in the big leagues as Girardi's big-league bench coach in 2008.
Thomson joined Girardi with the Phillies for the 2018 season, then inherited a talented Phillies roster that went 66-46 under him in the regular season and 9-2 in three rounds of the postseason.
Dombrowski — known for spending big, trading for elite talent and getting the job done with an aggressive style — inherited Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler in Philadelphia when he was hired by the Phillies in December 2020. He followed his script by signing talented hitters to complement Harper, who missed July and most of August this season with an injured thumb, and capitalizing on opportunities at the trade deadline.
One of those hitters, Castellanos, signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Phillies in March 2022. Under Dombrowski, the Tigers selected Castellanos with the No. 44 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He made his MLB debut for the Tigers in September 2013, and in July 2019, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Alex Lange and Paul Richan.
"I think that's all there is. It's the nature of the business," Castellanos said in September 2021, in the midst of a 34-homer season with the Cincinnati Reds. "Where I was in '19, they didn't feel like I was a piece they could build around. At the end of the day, all that did was put a little more gas on the fire."
Castellanos' red-hot 2021, in which he became an All-Star for the first time, led to his second big-money contract. And then he went ice cold for much of 2022.
He swung more often than anyone in baseball, struck out 130 times and hit .263 with 13 home runs in 136 regular-season games. His .694 OPS is the worst of his 10-year career, not including his 11-game stint in 2013.
Entering this season, Castellanos had played in five postseason games: three with the 2014 Tigers and two with the 2020 Reds. In 2022 alone, he has played in 11. He drove in five runs in the Phillies' NLDS win over the Atlanta Braves and secured the game-ending catch in right field in Game 5 of the NLCS to beat the San Diego Padres and advance to the World Series.
On Friday, Castellanos will step into the batter's box to face Verlander — his teammate with the Tigers from 2013-17.
An icon in Detroit, Verlander is — like Dombrowski — likely also on his way to the Hall of Fame. He turns 40 in February but is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award this season, which would give him three in his 17-year career.
Verlander is one of the greatest pitchers to ever take the mound for the Tigers, winning the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year Award and the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP awards with the Tigers, while posting a 3.49 ERA across 13 seasons (2005-17). But his dominance with the Astros — winning the 2017 World Series and the 2019 AL Cy Young while posting a 2.26 ERA and 825 strikeouts in 652 innings — has everyone wondering about the logo on the hat for his Hall of Fame plaque.
The Tigers, under Dombrowski's replacement, Al Avila, traded Verlander to the Astros in August 2017 for Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers and Daz Cameron. The deal, which signified the beginning of the organization's rebuild, didn't pay off for the Tigers; that trio hasn't produced in the big leagues.
"I think the reason that we got a good trade in return is because we were prepared to keep Justin Verlander for the remainder of his contract," Avila said in September 2017. "When you have that alternative, you can stand pat and say, 'This is what we want.' ... This is an obvious rebuild move. We're trying to stock our farm system with the best prospects we can acquire and that's how we'll move forward. And once we finish this, at some point, there will be a turnaround."
Phillies exec Dave Dombrowski interrupts Verlander’s press conference and jokingly asks him where he got his start. Dombrowski was with the Tigers when Verlander broke in with the Tigers.
“He’s still wearing the same cologne, by the way,” Verlander said. pic.twitter.com/RnrtPmebzR
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) October 27, 2022
Verlander, drafted No. 2 overall by the Tigers in 2004, underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2021 season. He became a free agent, returned to the Astros (without an offer from the Tigers) on a one-year deal (with a 2023 player option for $25 million) and pitched the best season of his career in 2022: a 1.75 ERA with 29 walks and 185 strikeouts over 175 innings in 28 starts.
Only 10 pitchers in MLB history have won at least three Cy Youngs.
Verlander will likely become the 11th.
His Game 1 start Friday will mark Verlander's 34th game (and 33rd start) in the postseason: 16 starts with the Tigers and 17 games (16 starts) with the Astros. He has a 3.55 ERA in the playoffs but a 5.68 ERA in seven World Series starts.
This year, Verlander allowed six runs over four innings in the Astros' ALDS sweep of the Seattle Mariners and one run over six innings in the ALCS sweep of the Yankees. His start against New York featured 11 strikeouts to make him MLB's career leader in postseason strikeouts.
Another reminder of the Tigers' decade-long absence from the World Series comes from Astros rookie pitcher Hunter Brown. He grew up in metro Detroit idolizing Verlander and making trips to watch him pitch at Comerica Park. He vividly remembers the days of the last Tigers dynasty, when the Tigers rolled out a starting rotation of Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price, with sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder mashing in the heart of the lineup.
Brown was born in Detroit, attended Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores and pitched for Wayne State in college before being drafted in the fifth round by the Astros in 2019. His second MLB start came Sept. 13 at Comerica Park; he struck out six batters across six innings while allowing just two runs. In the postseason, he appeared twice in the ALDS and once in the ALCS without surrendering a run.
He is seeking his first World Series title at 24 years old.
The Astros' pitching staff features one more tie to the Tigers, albeit an indirect one: Lance McCullers Sr. — the father of Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. — pitched nine games for the Tigers in 1990. The Tigers traded Matt Nokes to the Yankees and received McCullers Sr. and Clay Parker in return.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' 2022 World Series ties a reminder of glory days