Fashion is a fickle thing. It comes and goes like the tide, and eventually, everything that was once old is new again. Sometimes it takes longer to catch on around the world than others, but in the end, it typically does. That's why I'm a bit surprised hating Randy Smith hasn't caught on just yet. As long as it's been going on, I figured I would have seen it discussed by writers in publications such as GQ, Cosmopolitan, or Maxim by now. It's been the "thing to do" for quite some time; at least amongst Tiger fans.
As much fun, and as fashionable or sheik as it may be to place all of the Tiger's ills at the feet of Randy Smith, that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Pointing all the fingers at Smith is simply letting plenty of other candidates worthy of blame, completely off the hook. And how would we be complete Tiger fans if we didn't find every possible person to blame for not seeing .500 in over a decade?
Under the guidance of GM Jim Campbell, the Tigers used a couple of bumper drafts from 1974 to 1978 to stock the late 70s and early 80s Tigers with talent like Lance Parrish, Mark Fydrich, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Steve Kemp, Dave Rozema and so forth. These drafts would form the foundation for a stretch of eleven straight seasons with records over the .500 mark. Campbell's drafts stocked the Detroit team with one of the finest collections of talent in its history. Campbell remained the Tigers GM until 1983 when Bill Lajoie took over the reigns. Despite his early success as GM, Campbell's magic touch in the draft wore off during his last four years. The highlights from the 1980 through 1983 drafts are names like Bob Melvin, Jeff Robinson, and Jim Walewander. The special touch was certainly gone.
When Lajoie took over in 1984, the right ideas in terms of talent evaluation still eluded the organization. Lajoie was at the helm until 1990, and the top productions from his amateur drafts were memorable faces like Mike Henneman, John Smoltz (we all know the story here), Scott Lusader, Travis Fryman, Rico Brogna, and Tony Clark. Fryman and Clark were very nice players, but when that's the cream of the crop over a seven year stretch, you really aren't setting yourself up for success. Reaching 1990 having produced only a couple of truly above average players set the wheels in motion for the Tigers current demise.
Joe McDonald joined the Tigers as the new General Manager in 1991, and only stuck around for two years, leaving the Tigers with future stars Justin Thompson, Chris Gomez, Pat Ahearne, Bobby Higginson, and Sean Bergman. Thompson appeared on his way to stardom until his arm imploded, and Higginson was a highly productive player in spite of people's disdain for him late in his career. Despite only a few more good players joining the system, McDonald was actually well ahead of the curve when compared to his predecessors and followers.
In his brief one year stint that saw the Tigers log their last .500 season, Jerry Walker added Brian Moehler to the organization, but not much beyond that. The last front office luminary before the Randy Smith era began was Joe Klein. Klein's two drafts made wunderkind Gabe Kapler the next in a long line of disappointing prospects. With that, the Tigers were left with practically nothing from Klein's two drafts.
That is quite a run of poor player evaluation and drafting, all while combining it with an utter neglect for foreign player acquisition of any kind. From this chair, it looks like the cupboard was pretty bare when Randy Smith took to the helm at Tiger Stadium. Should we really be blaming the last 15 years of ineptitude on one man, or should we be blaming all of the aforementioned organizational leaders? After all, Randy Smith did load the system up with prospects like Robert Fick, Jeff Weaver, Nate Cornejo, Brandon Inge, Jason Frasor, Nook Logan, and Mark Woodyard. There's still some question as to whether Logan and Woodyard will actually contribute at the big league level, but there's a pretty solid chance they can.
Even in spite of all the hatred spewed at Randy Smith, it's important to acknowledge that in comparison to his predecessors, he actually had a pretty good run of acquiring guys who actually contributed at the Major League level.
I'm not going to sit here and try to convince anyone that Randy was without his faults, because he certainly was not ready to be, nor did he ever develop into a good General Manager; but he's not completely to blame. It's pretty hard to blame someone who was preceded by an additional 15 years of horrible player development. Randy Smith didn't help the situation, but he certainly didn't create it either.
As good Tiger fans, we should make sure we blame all those involved in the current state of the Tigers. That list includes Jim Campbell, Bill Lajoie, Joe McDonald, Jerry Walker, Joe Klein, and even Randy Smith, amongst others. It takes a lot of clueless decision making, and generally clueless people to create the kind of mess we have all been witness to in recent decades; so let's make sure we acknowledge and despise them all equally.