Dombrowski takes pride in AL title
General manager lets emotions show after sweep of A's
DETROIT -- Major League general managers make their living separating emotion from their business. They can't make million-dollar moves with their heart, and they can't let other teams read what they're thinking.
Few hold a poker face better than Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. Yet for a few seconds Saturday, all the emotion came out.
It was on national TV for everyone to see. His face lit up as Magglio Ordonez drove Huston Street's fastball towards the left-field fence. Once the ball landed in the seats, Dombrowski landed in vice president/legal counsel John Westhoff's arms.
"That's the most emotional I've ever seen him," Westhoff admitted.
Westhoff cautioned that he was around when Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland won a World Series championship with the Marlins in 1997. Still, even Dombrowski admitted that was a lot for him.
"That's one of the few times you let any emotion out that you possibly have," Dombrowski said. "That's one of those [moments] when you're hugging everybody and you're jumping up and down. It's a great, great feeling from a professional standpoint. It doesn't get much better than that."
He arguably had a right to let out some emotion after the journey here. He took over a Tigers organization eight years into what would be a 12-year stretch of losing seasons. Six games into his first season, he was at a news conference to dismiss then-manager Phil Garner and then-GM Randy Smith.
When Dombrowski named himself to the GM post that day, he assumed charge of a rebuilding process that would take the Tigers through 106 losses that year, then an AL-record 119 the next. His moment of competitive glory came when his old employer, the Florida Marlins, won the 2003 World Series with a roster largely made up of players Dombrowski had acquired.
When he dismissed franchise hero Alan Trammell as manager last October, he put on his shoulders the challenge of getting this team good in a hurry. He didn't think this good.
"I thought we'd be a better ballclub," Dombrowski said. "We thought we'd be significantly better. Our goal was to play meaningful games in the month of September. Well, we missed by a month, because here we are playing games in October. But you never could say [that would happen] going into this year. I thought we would've been a lot better, but not to this [level]."
A handful of holdovers remain from the Randy Smith era, notably third baseman Brandon Inge, pitcher Mike Maroth and infielders Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago. The rest of players came in under Dombrowski's regime, whether free-agent signings with help from owner Mike Ilitch or draft picks under scouting directors Greg Smith and David Chadd.
All the while, he had kept his trusted group of advisors intact that he brought him from Florida, starting with assistant GM Al Avila and continuing with chief negotiator Westhoff and player personnel director Scott Reid.
Avila and Reid were with Dombrowski in the Tigers clubhouse, watching their players celebrate while pouring a little champagne themselves.
"You know, it's a lot of hard work," Dombrowski said. "A lot of good people have done many good things to get to this point. It's hard for me to believe we actually won this thing in four games, because Oakland has an unbelievable club. In my mind, this is why you work all those long days, to win the World Series. And we're one step away."
Even as he stood on that step, hugging players and thinking about the Fall Classic, the general manager part of his mind still turned. As great as this year has become for him, he still has to think beyond. No matter what happens in the next two weeks, he likes what he sees from there.
"You're not only trying to win now," he said. "You're trying to win for many years to come. We've got a lot of good players in the organization. We have a lot of young talent, a lot of good young pitchers and it's apparent these guys are learning how to win. And it's a good foundation for times to come."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.