Since my Milwaukee Brewers won’t be joining the high ranks in the playoffs this year, I’ve been cheating with other teams. Busted. One of the more interesting races to the pennant to watch this year has been the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers bid for the American League Central. In fact, tomorrow's tie-breaker game will determine whether Detroit gets a chance in the post-season, or packs up their bags and settles into a 6-month vacation.

Last week the series opener against these division rivals was on ESPN and I watched the first half from my treadmill. The broadcast team was talking about the fan turnout in Detroit this year—an astounding number for a city that’s seen a fair share of suffering in this economic downturn. According to

“At the end of spring training, the unemployment rate in metro Detroit had climbed to 23%, the average home price fell below $12,000, and the Tigers calculated that season-ticket sales were down 13,000. Anybody familiar with the economics of baseball could envision how the summer would play out: Paltry attendance would lead to slashed payroll and a second straight last-place finish. "My only hope," says centerfielder Curtis Granderson, "was that people wouldn't go on vacation to Orlando or California and would come to our games instead."

That’s exactly what happened, and it didn’t hurt that Detroit had one of its best clubs in years. According to SI, the team’s record of 51-30 at Comerica Park is something they attribute to

“the overwhelming responsibility they feel playing in front of their home fans, many of whom are presumably using what little discretionary income they have to watch the team play. In his first spring training meeting manager Jim Leyland told his players, "People are going to be spending some of their last dollars to come to these games, and we need to give them our best effort. This is not the year not to run out a ground ball."

I found this quote both touching and unnerving. The old joke about sports coaches is that they just tell you to get hits, run faster, catch the ball, etc. Here Leyland is specifically telling the Tigers to try harder to win. And they did.

But the concept of incentive-based performance is slippery: Could this possibly be true, or is it a typical media spin of over sentimentalizing a good season? Baseball is a head game, so it stands to reason (baseball “reason”) that the enormous stakes for the city and team were a dominating factor in the team’s work ethic, caliber of performance, and sheer positive energy. But it also stands to reason that SI and ESPN want us to read this season like a film script.

What do you think? Is this a blatant play to make the Tigers into media darlings, or a World Series favorite? Or is this a real life example of how motivation can drive performance? Email me your perspective at



I don't pay much attention to the news media, sports media especially. Being from Chicago, the number two sports thing to complain about is the sports writers. The number one thing is the latest loss by whichever team did not get the latest W column addition. News is a business and if it sells, its news. Sorry about the cynicism.

With the other observation, as to if teams turn it up a notch for the hometown. Yes that is typically true, there are stats to prove it. I do believe that there are examples where people really dig in and get it done. The 1969 Mets, 1980 USA hockey team....These are just famous examples that stand out.

I know it is true that most NFL teams hate to play Green Bay at home. It really doesn't matter what the team standings are It will be tough. I remember Green Bay Beating Dallas at home when Dallas was at their peak and GB had a record of 3-8 or something. The score was really low, the lowest point game Dallas had that year. Being from Chicago and the Packer-Bear rivalry being a consistent bone of contention to the point of civil war between the you Cheeseheads and us FIBs (I know what that means, I had a friend go to school in Steven's Point) These two teams ramp it up and really stretch themselves to play at their best.

I think the tipping point to this "phenomena" is the issue of being a cohesive team and understanding that there is something bigger than the individual at stake. The tipping point of motivation isn't the product or the score at the end of the game, it is the relationships to the people around you and your level of obligation (dare I say, love) to each other. Detroit needs something to rally around and their baseball team stepped up. with that home team record, they earned it. I think its good for the sport and good for people as a whole to really watch people stepping up and putting it all out. And the news should report that, Its good to see good things go out for the public to know about.

I remember writing to you about the paradox of being 100% at work and keeping a balanced life. The editorial you commented on was way over the top and you thought that the writer was out of balance. I agreed with you that putting extra into it is a necessary thing, but balanced is better than burnout.

This illustration you write about now is the perfect example of exactly when you go beyond the call, and the perfect example of why you do it.