Detroit’s drought without a World Series championship enters its thirty-second year this season. The last time the Tigers hoisted the flag was 1984—before more than half the members of the current team were born. When Kirk Gibson hit his legendary home run off Goose Gossage in the clinching game of the ’84 Series, little Miguel Cabrera was in diapers.
Among the sixteen original major league franchises, the current drought is the fourth longest, behind, famously, the Chicago Cubs (who last won it all when they beat the Tigers in 1909), the Cleveland Indians (1948), and the Baltimore Orioles (1983).
Longer extant droughts include those of six expansion franchises: the Texas Rangers franchise, which entered the AL in 1961 as the new Washington Senators; Houston (since its entrance in 1962); San Diego and Milwaukee, who both started in 1969 along with Montreal, which turned into the Washington Nationals; and the Seattle Mariners, which began play in 1977.
Perhaps more meaningfully for Detroit fans, the current period without a World Series flag is the longest in franchise history. The Tigers entered the majors in 1901 and didn’t become world champs until 1935, but no World Series was played in 1901, 1902, and 1904, so the club went only thirty consecutive seasons when some other team won the Series.
In any case, three decades doesn’t begin to compare to the much longer non-championship stretches suffered by fans of the Cubs, the Boston Red Sox (1919-2003), the Chicago White Sox (1918-2004), the original Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins (1925-1986), and the Dodgers (until 1955), to name just a few.
Mike Ilitch, who bought the Tigers in 1992, is eager to win and is running out of time. The current team has a shadow of desperation about it. Manager Brad Ausmus is on a one-year contract extension and must produce to remain; and the many veteran stalwarts on the team aren’t getting any younger. In the offseason, the front office acquired players who can help now, like Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Upton, and Jordan Zimmermann.
Detroit fans used to have more modest expectations. Both the 1968 and 1984 teams are remembered as teams who fashioned magical seasons. But now with thirty teams and ten playoff spots, the path to a world championship is both easier to enter and much harder to traverse.
The Tigers, now in their 116th American League season, have won it all only four times. That doesn’t seem like much. But a fan born in the 1910s or 1920s could have easily seen and appreciated all four such Tiger teams (1935, 1945, 1968, and 1984). How many teams besides the Tigers have won four World Series in a fifty-year span? Only the elite—the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cardinals—as well as the Athletics and Reds. And the Giants and the Red Sox in the very early decades of the twentieth century.