The notes on the bulletin board in the Tigers’ clubhouse on Friday as players arrived indicated a pregame team meeting was looming. The early arrival of so many players indicated it was important.
The last time a team meeting had such urgency, the Tigers were parting ways with general manager Al Avila, a move in August that was a consequence of the struggles Detroit had battled all summer. This time, manager A.J. Hinch was meeting with the players to discuss their official elimination from postseason contention. It’s something he did last year, albeit much later in the season thanks to a late-season surge.
The talk wasn’t about the standings, or the struggles. It was about where to go from here, and how to get better. And for Hinch, that includes looking inward.
“I just want [players] to know that we have every excuse in the book when it comes to 17 starting pitchers and 51 players and a bunch of debuts, a little bad luck here, a little bad luck there. But we also didn’t play well,” Hinch said over the weekend. “It’s all-encompassing why we are where we are, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. We’re gonna get to the next calendar and enough is enough. We’ve got to figure out a better way of doing things and squeezing more out of our group, and it starts with me.
“I don’t feel very good about this season at all. I feel responsible. I’m in charge of anything that happens on the field, and we haven’t been very good. It starts with me looking at myself. It starts with the coaches and the players. If we want it to be different, we’re going to have to do something about it.”
It was a moment of self-reflection in a season in which seemingly everything that could go wrong did at some point. Much of the blame, rightly or wrongly, fell on Avila, whose departure has led to a wider-ranging look at the organization. At some point soon, the Tigers will have a new general manager, who will take a further look.
Hinch, too, plans to review his big-picture performance at the end of the season.
“It’ll be more in the offseason as I sort of decompress and look at things and how we’ve operated as an org, as a manager, as a coaching staff,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to process. It’s going to be a busy October with a lot of reflection, and then more importantly is the takeaways on how to get it better. I don’t dwell too much on this season because I don’t want to relive this season again. There’s some good parts, not all bad. Generally speaking, it’s been disappointing. I’ll look pretty deeply, anything from in-game to operational to processes.
“We’re not good enough yet, and it starts with me. I promised the players and I’m going to promise anybody I talk to that we’re going to figure out how to get this right.”
That message seemed to echo with players, some of whom have been reflecting upon their own performances. The meeting came on the same Friday that shortstop Javier Báez had what, for this season, is a prototypical Báez performance. He was a catalyst at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a double and a triple, running the bases aggressively and falling a home run shy of the cycle. His aggressive baserunning cost him on a play at the plate, thrown out trying to score the go-ahead run from third on a strikeout pitch in the dirt. He also committed two errors in the field.
“Obviously we’re not happy with our record, but I think we give everything we have,” Báez said. “There’s no excuses. We didn’t play good baseball as a team. [We had] all the injuries, but we still have to play good baseball. If we’re going to lose, we have to lose the right way, not making the mistakes that I’m making.”
“I think if you ask anybody in this locker room, we’re going to accelerate to the finish line,” he said. “We’re not going to lay down. If anybody comes in here thinking we’re just going to lay down, that’s not what this team is about. We’ve had our struggles this year, we’ve taken our licks, but we’re getting stronger, we’re getting better. We’re going to continue to work, and we have a lot to prove. We’re going to finish strong and ride the momentum into next year and see where we end up.”