Dave Dombrowski and I were not always on the best of terms.

Early on in his time with the Detroit Tigers, one of his close aides basically stopped talking to me, telling me, “I don’t think you’ve been fair to Dave.” Later, another aide told me that Dombrowski had made it a fireable offense to be found talking to me.

As time went on, I think Dombrowski gained a little more respect for my work. I know I gained more respect for his.

When the Tigers announced Tuesday that Dombrowski is done as their president and general manager, my friend and colleague Scott Miller tweeted his kudos to an era worthy of praise and admiration—even without capturing a championship ring.

I couldn’t agree more.

The last chapter I wrote in Numbers Don’t Lie was the one on the Tigers’ four consecutive division titles. In researching that chapter, I found that the Cardinals, Dodgers and Red Sox have never finished in first place in four straight seasons.

The Tigers never had, either, until Dombrowski’s teams did so in the last four years.

They won’t finish first this year, and Dombrowski leaves without ever delivering the long-sought World Series title that owner Mike Ilitch will now chase with longtime Dombrowski aide Al Avila in charge.

There’s no doubt that Dombrowski leaves the Tigers in better shape than they were in when he took over. They have a solid core of position players, and the organization has much more pitching depth after Dombrowski’s trades last week.

Dombrowski and his aides agonized over that buy-sell decision. They hated the idea of selling and went back and forth right to the end, eventually deciding that this team, as constructed, had only a small chance of winning this year and by dealing then the Tigers would significantly improve their chances of winning in 2016 and 2017.

How many GMs without a contract for 2016 would have made the same decision?

Dombrowski has his flaws. He spent the last four years trying to build a bullpen without ever succeeding. His record of hiring managers hasn’t been great (although he did hire Jim Leyland twice).

But just like Pat Gillick, the most recent general manager to go to the Hall of Fame, Dombrowski has a knack for taking over teams and turning them into winners. He’s organized, he’s persistent andjust as importantlyhe’s willing to be bold when needed.

It’s easy to say now that trading for Miguel Cabrera was an obvious move, but it wasn’t at the time, not when the price was Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, whom some considered untouchable prospects. Dombrowski didn’t mind trading away talent if he was happy with the return.

Not every deal worked, but he never got gun-shy after making a deal that failed.

Ultimately, he won. Dombrowski’s first Tigers team lost 106 games, but his fifth Tigers team went to the World Series (and should have won it). That 2006 team won 95 regular-season games, ending a string of 12 consecutive losing seasons. Dombrowski ran the Tigers for eight more years, and in only one of the eight did the Tigers lose more games than they won (2008).

He brought good people into the organization (sometimes bringing them back after they had left), and he demanded a lot from them. Behind closed doors, he would yell when things went wrong.

He can be tough to work for. He can be tough to cover.

But he also took time 10 days ago to go to Cooperstown to help honor longtime Tigers beat writer Tom Gage when Gage received the Hall of Fame’s Spink Award. The Tigers were in the midst of preparing for the trade deadline, and Dombrowski undoubtedly had other things on his mind. But he believed that honoring Gage was the right thing to do, so he did it.

I respect that, and I respect him.

Scott’s right. The Dombrowski era was one of the best in Tigers history.

I think that’s fair.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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