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The Tigers were going to move into a new ballpark, the culmination of several years of work, led by team President and CEO John McHale, Jr. But the concern among management was that the team on the field wouldn't befit a brand new stadium; the Tigers, after all, finished 69-92 in 1999 and had just two winning seasons since 1988.

So GM Randy Smith tried to make a splash during the off-season. In Texas, OF Juan Gonzalez, a bona fide superstar, was about to head into the last year of his contract in 2000, making him a free agent after the season.

On November 2, 1999, Smith pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade, dealing six players---including lefty Justin Thompson and OF Gabe Kapler---to the Rangers for Gonzalez, RHP Danny Patterson and C Gregg Zaun (who would be traded to Kansas City before the season).

It was a big gamble, because no one was sure whether Smith could get Gonzalez to sign with the Tigers beyond 2000.

There was more big news, beyond the Gonzalez trade and the Tigers moving into Comerica Park.

Larry Parrish was out as Tigers manager after an 82-104 record, replaced by fiery Phil Garner, a former big league infielder and manager of the Milwaukee Brewers from 1992 to August of 1999, when he was fired.

Opening Day at Comerica Park was held on April 11, 2000 against the Seattle Mariners. The weather was more befitting a snowball fight as temperatures were in the 30s and snowflakes   fluttered. The Tigers won, 5-2, but that was only after starting the season with a 1-5 road trip.

One of the features of Comerica Park was one that soured Gonzalez on returning to the Tigers: the ballpark's girth. Deep alleys and deeper than normal foul lines turned a lot of Gonzalez's powerful fly balls into harmless outs, frustrating the slugger to no end.

To bolster the rotation, the Tigers signed Hideo Nomo, who'd had some good seasons for the Dodgers earlier in his career. But the pitching didn't impress; the Tigers had a team ERA of 4.71.

Midway through the season, GM Smith made Gonzalez a huge contract offer that totaled well over $100 million. Gonzalez rejected it. As the season dragged on, it was looking more and more apparent that Smith's gamble was going to go bust. Not only that, but Gonzalez would miss a total of 47 games due to injury.

But the Tigers actually caught fire after the All-Star break and put themselves on the fringes of Wild Card contention by Labor Day. They were 70-67, five games out of a playoff spot.

But Garner's group faded and finished 79-83.

Gonzalez, in 115 games, hit 22 home runs. RF Bobby Higginson had a breakout year (30-102-.300). 3B Dean Palmer (29, 102) and CF Juan Encarnacion (14-72-.289) also contributed.

On the mound, Brian Moehler went 12-9 but Jeff Weaver, in his second year, was inconsistent (11-15, 4.32). Nomo was OK, but not great (8-12, 4.74). Todd Jones led the AL with 42 saves, along with setting a new Tigers single season record.

After the season, Gonzalez confirmed Tigers fans'---and Smith's---fears, signing with the division rival Cleveland Indians, of all teams.

By GregEno
 

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Tagged:
Bobby Higginson, Brian Moehler, Cleveland Indians, Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers, Gabe Kapler, Gregg Zaun, Hideo Nomo, Jeff Weaver, Juan Encarnacion, Juan Gonzalez, Justin Thompson, Larry Parrish, Phil Garner, Todd Jones

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