Editorial: Leadership void in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse is a real problem

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

What is the makeup of a championship team? Certainly, it’s important to have quality players, thoughtful game plans, timely execution, and a little luck. However, there is another element to championship teams that is hard to quantify and easy to overlook: leadership.

Obviously, it’s important to have good leaders as coaches. Many Detroit Lions fans will tell you that quality leadership in the front office is also of paramount importance. The type of leadership that I’m referencing, however, is on the field and most importantly, in the locker room. There aren’t stats for this element of successful teams, but, it definitely makes a difference.

Let’s take the Detroit Tigers as an example. In 2013 Torii Hunter joined the team as an outfielder and stayed for 2 seasons. During this time the Tigers had very successful seasons reaching the AL Championship Series in 2013 and AL Division Series in 2014. Hunter was an All-Star in 2013 and helped solidify the lineup defensively and on offense.

Hunter left the team to finish his storied career with the Minnesota Twins in 2015. The Tigers have not reached the postseason since he left. While his stats and records (All-Star and Silver Slugger in 2013) were impressive, I think that Hunter’s contribution to the team was bigger as a leader. Successful teams need veteran leadership. Torii Hunter was able to lead by example but, I think he had even greater effect in the locker room.

This is all speculation. I have not spent any time in the Tigers locker room. What I do know is that Hunter was a winner. He’d had success everywhere he’d been. His individual stats are impressive but, the teams he played on reached the post season 11 times over his 18-year career.

Let’s take a look at the current Detroit team. Certainly stacked with talent including Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton, and Justin Verlander. The issue is, I don’t see any of those guys leading by anything other than example. Most of these players have been with Detroit since Hunter left. However, the leadership void still exists.

Here’s a hypothetical situation:

Francisco Rodriguez is bumped from the closer position in favor of Justin Wilson. After ten games, Wilson goes down with an injury. Here’s the issue: can manager Brad Ausmus turn back to KRod for the closer spot? Would the team accept him?

Brad Ausmus strikes me as a manager who listens to his players and his team veterans. I think the players like him and respect him for that. However, without a quality leader helping disseminate managerial decisions to the other players, Ausmus may have trouble getting the locker room back. I think the team has lost confidence in Rodriguez. They might not just accept him back with open arms if/when he returns.

Simply put, the team needs a player in the locker room who has the respect of the team not only for play on the field but, also communication off it. This is especially important with a “players coach” like Brad Ausmus. Torii Hunter was that player for Detroit and in other stops in his professional career. That is a piece that the Tigers are currently missing.

As I said above, this is complete speculation on my part. I don’t have any stats or personal experience within the Detroit Tigers team to back up my claims. Most beat writers that interview players on a daily basis aren’t even inside the locker room enough to get a real idea of how the inner workings of the team develop over a season. That said, I think this is an important issue to the current Tigers team that may come back to haunt them this season.

As Bill Maher would say, “I don’t know it for a fact. I just know it’s true.”

Written by Leonard Elmore

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