The author, a Detroit freelancer, is a former Detroit News reporter.
By Paul Harris
Because I grew up during the 1970s, mostly a sad time for Detroit sports, particularly '74-'75, I never thought I would see a year worse than either for the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings and Pistons.
Then came 2019.
According to research by fellow long-time Detroit freelance sports writer Dave Hogg, the 226 losses suffered by the four teams in calendar year 2019 are not only the most in Detroit sports history, but also of any city or market in any calendar year in the history of North American professional sports.
Now that's what you call rock bottom.
What's more, that includes markets like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which have two teams in one or more major leagues -- baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
Here are Detroit losses last season:
► Tigers: 114
► Red Wings: 55
► Pistons: 45
► Lions: 12
And things don’t look likely to get better anytime soon.
The Tigers don’t seem to have much direction, despite continued proclamations that they are on track – “To where?” would be my question – from general manager Al Avila.
So far in the offseason, Detroit has signed three free agents in an attempt to improve: First baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, both from the Minnesota Twins and catcher Austin Romine from the New York Yankees, who is also the younger brother of former Tigers utility man Andrew Romine.
Cron and Schoop both topped 20 homers for the dinger-happy Twins last season and combined for 48 home runs and 137 RBI. But both had on-base percentages of less than .320 (.350 and above is good). So the veteran right-handed power hitters will swing and miss a lot, won’t take many walks, but will drive the ball with power when they do hit it.
And that is needed at Comerica Park, when you consider that in a record season for home runs, Brandon Dixon’s 15 led the Tigers in that stat in 2019.
Romine will likely compete to be the Tigers No. 1 catcher in 2020.
And then there are the Lions …
More like kittycats
The team that decided 36 wins in four seasons, including two wild-card playoff appearances and consecutive 9-7 seasons under Jim Caldwell wasn’t good enough, has gone from six wins to three wins in two seasons under Caldwell’s successor, Matt Patricia, who along with GM Bob Quinn – of course – has the full support of owner Martha Ford.
And on Thursday it was announced that defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will be stepping away from football “to be closer to his family” and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will be taking an “indefinite leave” of absence from coaching.
Considering Pasqualoni’s defense was 31st among the 32 NFL teams in yards allowed per, I suppose it is an “improvement” that he’s stepping away from coaching. But let’s see who Patricia, who somehow still has the reputation of being a defensive coach, hires as the new defensive coordinator.
And no one knows how quarterback Matthew Stafford, who turns 32 in February after missing the last part of the season with broken bones in his back, will recover.
The Lions’ 3-12-1 record earned them the third pick in the NFL Draft. But can anyone really have confidence in who Detroit will pick, with their draft history?
And the Wings?
The Red Wings are by far the worst team in the NHL, with a lineup featuring at least 10 players who don’t belong in the league. And even if Steve’s Yzerman’s first draft class last year, and this year’s selections, ultimately yield three or four solid NHL players each, it will be at least two more years before the team improves significantly.
The Pistons are by far the best of the four, but may be further away from competing for a championship than the rest.
That’s because they are in the middle. The Pistons definitely are not real good, but not real bad either.
They are good enough to barely scrape into the playoffs and get dusted immediately, as when they were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
To have the opportunity to draft high enough to take real impact players, the Pistons will have to bottom out.
Even if that happens, it will begin yet another Detroit rebuilding project.
So there’s not much hope on the horizon for Detroit sports fans.
Even when it was bad, it was better
At least in the '70s, there were some positives going on for the four teams.
During the 1973-'74 season, Mickey Redmond posted his second consecutive 50-goal season for the Red Wings. The following year, Danny Grant scored 50 goals in his first season in Detroit, while Marcel Dionne had 47 goals and 121 points in what would be his last season as a Red Wing.
And the Pistons actually made the playoffs four consecutive seasons from '73-'74 to '76-'77, winning 52 games in '73-'74. They also had two legitimate NBA stars in center Bob Lanier and guard Dave Bing – who was traded after the '74-'75 season.
And even as the Tigers bottomed out, as the '68 World Series heroes grew old and over the hill, Al Kaline reached and surpassed 3,000 hits in 1974.Ron LeFlore came up during the 1974 season and brought something that no Tiger fan had seen much of in a long time: Speed and the ability to steal bases.
Also on the horizon was 1976, which featured the excitement of Mark Fidrych’s spectacular rookie season in the “Summer of the Bird.”
Other than Andre Drummond’s rebounding stats, there is nothing in Detroit sports these days that compares to the positives of 45 years ago.
Oh, the Lions back then?
Coach Don McCafferty died suddenly of a heart attack in late July 1974, and was replaced by Rick Forzano. They went 7-7 that season and in 1975.