DREW SHARP: The Detroit Tigers are going nowhere

Treading water just 30 games into the season, it’s unlikely that the Detroit Tigers can bail fast enough to keep their 2016 campaign afloat.

But the question going forward is whether owner Mike Ilitch can accept that the window of championship opportunity has closed for his cherished Tigers. They’ve lost six in a row and now face a weeklong road trip against two first-place teams. The Tigers have found every imaginable method for blowing games: poor starting pitching one second, leaky bullpen the next. Unreliable situational hitting has been a constant.

There isn’t a managerial savior sitting on the major league sidelines. There isn’t a veteran trade acquisition capable of pulling this underwhelming team as far as it needs to go to win the division. Throwing more money at the Tigers’ problems no longer is the remedy.

But that’s a decision that only Ilitch can make.

The man deserves the gratitude of everyone in Detroit. Ilitch did his very best with this club. His players love him. He put every ounce of his heart and soul into molding a defiant spirit within Tigers fans. Anyone who thought that Detroit couldn’t spend with the big boys in New York and Los Angeles or couldn’t keep the game’s bigger
superstars in their prime was sadly mistaken. He created a celebratory atmosphere, turning Comerica Park into an oasis in the city.

Ilitch already sits in the Hockey Hall of Fame for his many contributions. He deserves a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well, for reviving a proud franchise that was given up for dead for nearly two decades.

Ilitch relentlessly reached for the baseball mountaintop — and missed. There’s no crime in trying. Only through failure is success realized.

But there comes a moment when a high payroll no longer pays dividends. The Tigers have reached that moment.

Firing Brad Ausmus would momentarily appease the torch-and-pitchfork crowd storming the gates. But sacrificing the manager wouldn’t alter the reality that the Tigers are merely an average team that thinks it’s better than it is. Competitive, but not a contender.

And if the Tigers aren’t the latter, what’s the point in further delaying the rebuild? Harsh, extended downturns ultimately resulted in the resurrections of former punchline franchises in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston and the Chicago Cubs.

That’s a tough call for Ilitch because he never concedes anything. He publicly has said he doesn’t care about spending his money. And at 86, he understands the preciousness of time.

But the Tigers are trapped in the same quandary as Ilitch’s hockey team. Neither is good enough to meet ownership’s demanding standards. Yet both remain committed to maintaining a level of mediocrity under the guise of title contention.

The Tigers’ needs go beyond a fresh voice from the manager’s office. But first, there needs to be a concession from a beloved owner who gallantly fought the fight and did the best that he could.

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