Dave Dombrowski -- the Tigers' president, CEO, and (yes) general manager -- could be the face of the franchise if he cared to be. Dombrowski, though, is generally a circumspect sort and seems perfectly content to let everybody else take credit for the organization's successes, from the manager and the players down to the bat boys and the assistant clubhouse custodial engineers. That helps explain why Leyland got so much of the credit for the Tigers' amazing turnaround. In the absence of any longtime (and long-suffering) local heroes -- Brandon Inge and Todd Jones were the only 2006 Tigers who were around as recently as 2001 -- if we're looking for a face, the first one we'll see is the worn, craggy face atop the manager.
Among fans in Detroit, Jim Leyland might be the most popular Tiger. He has a certain guy-next-door quality to him -- perhaps it's that he grew up in nearby Perrysburg, Ohio -- and Michiganders see a lot of themselves in his tough exterior and emotional core. He received the loudest ovations when the Tigers were introduced during postseason series last year. That says a lot. He is a gifted communicator with his players, and the ability to squeeze a good first half out of a team whose bullpen failed so often speaks to his great ability in the job.
For the face of their team, some Detroit Tigers fans might choose a player who persevered with the team during those really bad years, but can now revel in its success. Others might prefer one who joined the Tigers at their lowest point after having achieved success elsewhere. But I like a guy who symbolizes the newfound prosperity of baseball in Detroit, whose performance has shown that the fans can actually believe the organization when it says this player is going to be good. He might draw his loudest cheers when blazing around the bases for a triple or making a smooth, assured catch in the outfield. But Curtis Granderson also evokes love and respect from Detroit fans for striving to be something more than just a ballplayer. Because of that effort, and the promise of more to come, Granderson represents the Detroit Tigers like no other player.
There's no doubt that Gary Sheffield has walked in and become the face of this franchise. Last season it was definitely Ivan Rodriguez and at the beginning of this season, it was Magglio Ordonez. But Sheffield has willed his way to the top through his powerful personality and on-field exploits. He keeps his name in the news and has the ability to use any small doubt in a competitor's eyes, whether real or imagined, to better himself. We've seen it throughout his career and it's happening again in Detroit as he's created a whirlwind of controversy around himself seemingly to propel his game to a higher level. I don't think there's a player in the league who plays better with a chip on their shoulder and what better representative of the city of Detroit and the Tigers' franchise than a guy who keeps getting back up.