This weekend’s great surprise for Tigers fans was not the come-from-behind victory that avoided the sweep against the Giants. Instead, it was a victory of sorts on the online ballot that sent Alex Avila’s total ahead of the Yankees’ Russell Martin and into the starting lineup for this year’s mid-summer classic. For a catcher that is essentially in a platoon-style role this year with offseason signing Victor Martinez, this recognition signifies more than a clutch performer behind the plate. Instead, Avila’s ascension highlights the Tigers’ ability to succeed post-Pudge Rodriguez.
The Detroit Tigers and their catchers have highlighted a special relationship that has endeared the fans to the men wearing the masks, attempting to catch 100 mph fastballs out of the dirt. From the champions of Freehan and Parrish to Ausmus, Rodriguez, Inge and now Avila, the Tigers’ catcher has symbolized a consistent ability to reflect the success of the season. When Gerald Laird spent the majority of a season sub-.200, the Tigers knew exactly the kind of season that was in store for them. While teams can still succeed with an everyday player not performing to a high level, it seems that with the Tigers – it’s catcher or bust.
Such an abundance of catching talent in 2011 has also been part of the great marketing dilemma for the Tigers. Victor Martinez has quietly put together one of the better first halves of a season in his career, part of the reason why the Tigers are hanging around the AL Central lead right now. While Martinez can still make the team based on fan voting, it took a concentrated effort by all Tigers resources to get Avila on this team. If the Tigers’ communication channels are able to push through Martinez’s candidacy, this internal marketing team should receive some recognition of their own.
Remember a time when the Tigers would only have their token representative on the All-Star team? Consider that those days are well behind us.