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Jack Morris and Lance Parrish.

The game can’t start until the pitcher delivers his first pitch to his catcher. A “battery” is the central part of the defensive unit in baseball. Good pitching and good catching go hand in hand.

The 1984 Tigers had an All-Star catcher and a future Hall of Fame pitcher on the mound, two players in the primes of their career. Their success that season was integral in a world championship.

This is the fifth installment of a series of articles that profiles members of the 1984 World Series champions.

Parrish worked hard to become a great catcher
1984 WS Gm5: Parrish belts solo home run in Game 5 - YouTube

When catcher Lance Parrish joined the Tigers at the tail end of the 1977 season, the team was looking to get younger and better. No one, not the most wildly optimistic Nostradamus of the baseball world, could have predicted the muscle-bound Parrish, just 21 years old and learning a new position, would spend 19 seasons in the major leagues. But he did.

Parrish was drafted as a third baseman out of high school in southern California in 1974. Just a week after the Tigers signed him, Lance was in Bristol, Virginia, playing for their Rookie League club. He led that team in homers, showing off his power at a ripe age. The next season in spring training, the organization decided to turn Parrish into a catcher. The reasoning was simple: the minor league system was well-stocked with outfielders and Aurelio Rodriguez was entrenched at the hot corner in Detroit. Also, veteran Bill Freehan, the best catcher in the American League for a decade or more, was winding down his great career. Parrish, at least physically, was similar to Freehan: both were tall and strong, with massive shoulders. Parrish, blessed with a beefy body, was even bigger than Freehan. GM Jim Campbell and manager Ralph Houk both agreed that Parrish would make a fine catcher if he was tutored.

To ensure that Parrish had a good mentor, they brought in Russ Nixon to manage the Lakeland Tigers in 1975. Nixon was a baseball lifer who had caught for 12 seasons in the big leagues. Nixon shared something in common with Parrish – he too was a big guy who made the transition to the catcher position as a young player. He helped Parrish learn his way around the “tools of ignorance” that season.

Fortunately for Lance, in 1976 he was promoted to Montgomery, the Tigers Double-A team, where his manager was another former big league receiver – the stern Les Moss. At Montgomery, Parrish first played with Alan Trammell, Tom Brookens, Jack Morris, and Steve Kemp, among other future Tiger fixtures. Moss was so good with younger players that the organization moved him up to their top club at Evansville in 1977, where Parrish, Morris, and Brookens jelled. That season, Parrish’s third as a catcher, was the first after Freehan’s retirement and the club was delighted with their young prospect’s progress. Still, they brought in Freehan to work with Parrish during spring training, especially on blocking pitches in the dirt. Parrish was a big body, but he was not naturally skilled at springing himself left or right to block errant pitches.

At the plate, Parrish was major league ready. He hit 25 homers at Evansville, leading the team. That production earned him his September callup. Milt May, in his eighth season in the big leagues, was the Tigers starting catcher in ’77. Though May was a respected defender behind the dish, he was nothing more than a placeholder in Detroit. The Tigers had groomed Parrish to be the successor of Freehan, their 11-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glover.

On September 5, in the second game of a doubleheader with the Orioles at Tiger Stadium on a Monday night, Parrish made his big league debut. Hitting fifth in the order, Lance hit into a grounder to second base in his first at-bat, against right-hander Rudy May. Later he drew a pair of walks in the Tigs 5-0 loss. In that game, Parrish showed off his right arm – twice gunning down Al Bumbry. Two days later, again in the nightcap of a twinbill against Baltimore at The Corner, Parrish was behind the mask again, and this time he belted his first home run. It was a line drive into the right field lower deck. He may have been a little late on the fastball, but Lance had the power to take it out the opposite way.

The Tigers were pretty sure they had their catcher of the future, the man to pick up where Freehan left off.

That’s just what “Big Wheel” did, playing for a decade in Detroit, winning three Gold Gloves and making five All-Star teams. In 1982 he set an American League record for catchers with 32 home runs. He was the cleanup hitter in 1984 when the Tigers won the World Series. He clubbed 212 homers and drove in 700 runs in his ten seasons wearing the Old English D.

In April of 1984, Parrish was behind the plate to catch a no-hitter from Jack Morris at Comiskey Park in Chicago. He handled the lively split-finger pitch that Morris had that day, playing balls out of the dirt on the way to teh frist no-hitter by a Detroit pitcher since 1958.

Parrish bucked the odds and played 19 seasons in the majors as a catcher. He caught 1,818 games, the sixth most in baseball history when he retired in 1995.

Not bad for a September callup who had been a catcher for only a few years.

Morris thrived in big games
1984 Jack Morris No Hitter called by Ernie Harwell - YouTube

There was nothing Jack Morris wanted more than to be in control when he was on the mound. Anyone who watched Morris during his prime knows that the right-handed hurler was usually in command when he took the ball for his club.

“There’s no one I’d rather have pitch a big game for me than [Morris],” Sparky Anderson said.

He pitched his share, winning both of his starts in the 1984 World Series, and later spinning his famous masterpiece in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series for the Twins, the game that many point to as the greatest game in baseball history.

But one game, even in such a bright spotlight, does not define a pitcher. Fortunately Morris accumulated many other impressive credentials in a career that ended with 254 victories.

When Morris came up with the Detroit Tigers in 1977, a starting pitcher was expected to finish what he started. This was the era of Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, and Nolan Ryan – workhorses who started 40 games per year. When the ace of the staff was on the hill he was expected to give the bullpen a rest, and if he got into trouble he was supposed to pitch his way through it. It had been that way for generations. Morris followed in the cleat steps of those aces before him. The righthander with the bushy mustache was the ultimate workhorse.

During his 18-year career, Morris completed 175 games, 68 more than any other pitcher during that span. If you extend the time frame to ten years before Morris debuted until the modern era, Morris’s 175 complete games are surpassed only by Bert Blyleven and Jim Palmer, both Hall of Famers.

The value of Morris’s endurance can further be illustrated through quality starts. A quality start is any start of six innings or more where a pitcher allows three earned runs or less. Since the early 1990s, the expectations for starting pitchers were dimmed – just go six innings, anything beyond that is gravy. Roger Clemens made a second career of that, for example, pitching six innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Morris was the exact opposite.

Of his 527 career starts, Morris threw 297 quality starts. More than half his starts were quality starts, but they were not the sort of quality starts we see today. A deeper look shows that Morris had an exceptional number of long-inning quality starts. For his career, one in every four starts he made was a quality start of nine innings or longer. When he took the ball, he held it and didn’t come out of the game easily.

Morris was an ace for a long time (he made 14 opening day starts), pitched deep into games even when he didn’t have his good stuff, and did it regularly for a decade and a half. No other pitcher comes close to Morris from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s in complete games, innings, quality starts, starts, or wins.

Then there was Morris’s clutch value. All he did was start, dominate, and win seven postseason games in 1984 and 1991 as the Tigers and Twins won the World Series behind his right arm. At one point he had a 7-1 post-season record before struggling in four starts for the Jays in 1992. He wasn’t quite Bob Gibson or Curt Schilling in the postseason, but he wasn’t far off, and he was a huge reason three of his teams won World Series titles. He won post-season honors as Series MVP in 1984 and 1991.

For close to 15 years without fail, Jack Morris took the ball every four or five days, pitched deep into games, and won big games. That’s what aces were supposed to do.

In 1984, Morris won ten of his first 11 decisions, he had ten wins before the end of May, on a pace to win more than 30 games. But he leveled off, of course, eventually becoming so frustrated that he refused to talk to reporters. Thankfully, Morris figured things out and was a star in the postseason, pitching three victories.

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Fans celebrate the World Series victory parade in downtown Detroit in 1984.

Bless You Boys.

It’s time to do the wave again.

Thanks to a wonderful 53-minute documentary titled Detroit Tigers: Roar of ‘84 directed by long time Fox Sports producer and Detroit native Larry Lancaster, fans can relive, or otherwise learn about, the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers.

Just the third of only five teams in history to stay in first from Opening Day through Fall Classic, the film captures all the key moments of that magical spring, summer and fall when the Tigers lead by Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, and Lance Parrish jumped out to a record setting 35-5 start and never looked back.

Narrated by none other than Motown legend Smokey Robinson, the film placed third for the audience award at the Detroit Free Press Film Festival two weeks ago and thankfully will have its national debut this Saturday, April 27th at 10 PM on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) following the Brewers- Mets game.

Interspersed with glimpses of historic black and white footage of the early days of Tiger baseball, the film deftly jumps to the phenomenon of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and his injury replacement Jack Morris, the development of Whitaker, Trammell, Parrish, and Gibson, and later the shrewd moves by the team that landed manager Sparky Anderson, followed by the key acquisitions of slugger Darrell Evans, soon to be Cy Young and MVP reliever Willie Hernandez, and Dave Bergman prior to the 1984 season.

The documentary features new interviews with many members of the 1984 team local and national media personalities, clips of calls made by Tiger broadcasters Ernie Harwell and George Kell and the interesting perspectives of opposing players from that season, including one in particular.

With a replay of the scene, former Toronto catcher and current broadcaster Buck Martinez describes his exchange with Dave Bergman during the first baseman’s famous 10th inning, two out, 13-pitch, nine foul balls at bat before he hit a dramatic game winning homer at Tiger Stadium off of Roy Lee Jackson on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball. Sparky Anderson called it the greatest at bat he had ever witnessed while many observers believe it was the pivotal moment of the season since the pesky second place Blue Jays were just 4 ½ games behind Detroit at the start of the contest.

All in all, I think George Kell would have described Larry Lancaster’s endearing documentary as follows:

“This one is well hit………..way back…………it’s a home run!”

View a trailer of the newly released documentary >

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Top: Barbaro Garbey, left to right: Rusty Kuntz and Marty Castillo.

Over the course of a 162-game season, a manager will eventually have to look down his bench and find the players who occupy the last few spots on his roster. A season cannot be navigated with stars alone.

Few managers in history understood that better than George “Sparky” Anderson, who was a pretty mediocre talent himself when he played the game. Throughout his Hall of Fame managerial tenure, Sparky showed an affinity for the “scrubs” on his bench. In 1984, when the Tigers rolled to the pennant, it might have appeared as if it was easy, but throughout the campaign, at critical junctures, Anderson relied on his bench to provide a boost.

This is a profile of three of those “super-subs” who made their mark in 1984. None of these players ended up with a plaque in Cooperstown, none of them were All-Stars, but they all had their moments in the major leagues, and all of them can call themselves world champions.

Barbaro Garbey: From Cuba to Detroit

It takes a measure of courage to stand in the box and face a major league fastball. But it takes even more guts to escape a terrible situation by riding a small boat 90 miles across the ocean in the middle of night. Barbaro Garbey did both.

Born in Cuba, Garbey was a gifted athlete, and four times in the 1970s he starred for the Cuban National team in international competition. He was short but strong, with a short, compact swing from the right side of the plate. He won a few batting titles in Cuba, but a gambling scandal scarred his career on the island. Garbey later explained that he had little choice but to take part in runs-shaving, since he was being paid very little to play baseball and had a family to support.

In 1980, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro publicly invited any Cuban who didn’t want to live under his regime, to “leave the homeland.” Garbey was 24 years old when he stepped onto a small fishing boat with dozens of others on a dark night in June. The boat landed in Key West where Garbey and the others were relocated to a refugee camp in Pennsylvania. It was there that he met Orlando Pena, a former player who was scouting for the Tigers. Pena couldn’t believe the skinny kid he saw playing catch while wearing tattered blue jeans was the “Garbey” he heard so much about from Cuban baseball figures. He asked Barbaro if he could hit a baseball.

“Get me out of here and feed me well and you’ll see how well I can hit,” Garbey said. The Tigers signed Garbey for a modest $2,500 and assigned him to their farm system. No one would have predicted that the skinny refugee would be part of a championship team in Detroit only four years later.

Garbey sprayed line drives around the diamond at every stop in his minor league career in the United States. He hit .364 in his first taste of pro ball, followed that with an All-Star selection with Birmingham in 1982, and earned a promotion to Triple-A Evansville the following year.

It wasn’t easy for Garbey in his first years in the United States. Having come here alone, Garbey didn’t have any family support, he didn’t speak good English, and he was hounded by his past. Once the story broke that he had been involved in a gambling scandal in Cuba, some fans in the minor leagues took to jeering Garbey any time he failed on the field. The young Cuban nearly quit baseball, but he held firm with encouragement from the Tigers organization and one very influential admirer.

When Sparky Anderson saw Garbey hit in spring training in 1981, he immediately fell in love with the Cuban’s short stroke. He compared Garbey to Roberto Clemente, which was unfair, but represented the quality of Barbaro’s hitting. By spring training in 1984, the team planned to find a spot for him. But after the trade that brought Dave Bergman to the team, Garbey’s spot on the roster was unsure.

It turned out to be impossible to keep Garbey off the opening day roster, he hit so well in Florida. He made his first appearance as a pinch-hitter on opening day. He was the first Cuban-born player to debut in the majors since Tony Perez in 1964. His first month in the league, Garbey hit like Perez.

In April as the Tigers rolled to an 18-2 record, Garbey kept his batting average over .400, with 11 RBIs in only 13 games. He was among batting leaders in the American League and suddenly his story of escape from Cuba in the famed “Freedom Flotilla” was an inspiration. He was valuable off the bench for Sparky, delivering eight pinch-hits that season. He had three more hits in the playoffs against the Royals, but went hitless in 12 at-bats in the World Series. But that didn’t lessen the sweet taste of winning.

“This moment I’ve never known in baseball,” Garbey said. “We were champions in Cuba in 1974, but it didn’t mean too much. I was happy, but it wasn’t like this. This means you are part of one of the best baseball teams in the world.”

Garbey was a key reason the 1984 Tigers had great production from their bench. Non-starters hit close to .290 that season and between Garbey, Ruppert Jones, Dave Bergman, and Johnny Grubb, the big bats off the bench hit nearly 20 home runs and provided clutch hits. Sparky played Garbey at first base, third, at designated hitter, and even used him in the outfield.

The Tigers brought Garbey back in 1985 and he was solid, but not quite as effective as he’d been in 1984. After the season the 28-year old asked to be traded so he could play regularly. Detroit obliged and swapped him to Oakland, where Barbaro failed to earn a roster spot. He played his final big league games in 1988 for Texas but that wasn’t the end of his baseball story. Garbey forged a career in the Mexican League where he hit over .300 a few times, still flashing his quick bat.

Garbey eventually found his way into coaching, briefly working in several organizations as a batting instructor. He currently lives in Livonia with his wife and children and remains in contact with the Tigers organization, occasionally appearing at fantasy camps where he once again dons the uniform of the team that he helped to a World Series title.

Trusty Rusty Kuntz

In seven seasons as a professional ballplayer, Rusty Kuntz had never done much to distinguish himself. He seemed like a Triple-A player, nothing more. He had some brief spells with big league clubs, a few cups of coffee in The Show prior to landing with the Tigers in 1984 on the other end of a trade involving Larry Pashnick.

After playing a lot in Florida in his first camp with Detroit, there was something in Rusty that Sparky Anderson liked, and the manager offered Kuntz a job. But it came with conditions.

“Sparky said, ‘If you don’t want the job, I’m going to give it to [another player], but I’m giving you first choice at it. So you can say yes or you can say no. Now, first thing out of your mouth that you don’t want to do it, you don’t want to be that [player]? I’ll have you out of here in a heartbeat.’ ”

The job was not sexy: Kuntz would be a defensive replacement, wouldn’t start, wouldn’t play two days in a row, would be a late-inning guy getting very few chances. Eager to be in the big leagues, Kuntz took the job.

Sparky used Rusty just as he promised, as a late-innings defensive replacement for Kirk Gibson or Larry Herndon, as a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter. At the end of June he had appeared in 50 games and performed as well as anyone could have expected, he was hitting .311 in his limited role.

Kuntz was briefly sent to the minors when the Tigers needed another pitcher, but he was called back and finished the year with Detroit, batting .286 with a pair of homers and 22 RBIs. Still seeing Rusty as a part of the team, SParky included him on the playoff roster. Against all odds, in the World Series in Game Five he found himself in a key spot.

With the game tied 3-3 in the fifth, the Tigers had the bases loaded when the Padres brought in a lefthanded pitcher to face Johnny Grubb. That’s when Sparky turned to Trusty Rusty.

“The scouting reporting on Lefferts was [that] he would come in hard early and then throw that little nothing changeup away late. So when you go to the plate, look for that first one to drive,” Kuntz said. “Well, I can’t tell you what happened because the adrenaline is just overwhelming. When Sparky looks down and says, ‘Rusty, grab a bat.’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my God, I’m actually going to play.’”

Kuntz ended up hitting a harmless popup into short right field and was immediately pissed that he had failed his teammates. But when second baseman Alan Wiggins made the catch he was retreating into right field, going away from the infield. Kirk Gibson was the runner on third base and he took off for home, scoring in an exciting play that gave the Tigers the lead they never relinquished. Rusty had an RBI sacrifice fly that proved to be the winning run in the Series.

Rusty Kuntz's World Series moment - YouTube

Kuntz’s unlikely story and his strange name made him a folk hero of sorts in the Motor City. He was tall and thin with a bushy head of blonde hair. He didn’t look like a major league player. Fans felt a kinship with Rusty. He played a few games for Sparky in 1985 but that turned out to be his last taste of major league action. He later spent several seasons as an outfield coach and first base coach for the Royals, earning a second ring with Kansas City in 2015.

Marty Castillo: The Unlikely Hero

When you can catch and also play a second position with some skill, you can be a valuable piece to a major league club. That’s why Marty Castillo got to play five seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

Castillo was drafted by Detroit in the 1978 amateur draft as a third baseman after a collegiate career in southern California. He earned a reputation as a good glove man and prompted by Tiger brass, he took up catching, working with former star Bill Freehan to learn the position. The path to the majors was blocked by Lance Parrish, but the team needed a versatile bench player who could wear many gloves. Castillo proved to be that guy, making his debut in 1981.

Every year for about a decade, Tom Brookens beat away competition for his job at third base, and Castillo was one of those guys who lost out to Brooky. In 1983 he played 58 games at the hot corner for Sparky Anderson, but Castillo looked overmatched at the plate. Still, his defensive acumen earned him a spot on the Tigers in April of 1984. Initially, Castillo saw little action, but as the season wore on he worked his way into a third base mix with Brookens, Howard Johnson, and Barbaro Garbey. When the dog days of summer came around, Sparky used Marty to spell Parrish, giving him a handful of starts behind the plate. In late August he hit two home runs in a series in Anaheim against the Angels with friends and family in the stands cheering him on.

The best part of the 1984 season for Castillo was the postseason where he emerged as an unlikely hero, not once but twice.

Sparky started Castillo at third base twice in the playoffs against the Royals. In Game One, Marty had two hits, and in Game Three he drove in the only run in a 1-0 victory when he beat out a fielders’ choice that allowed Chet Lemon to score from third. Castillo played the entire game and caught a foul popup for the final out that clinched the pennant. Castillo revealed that teammate Doug Bair had dared Castillo (if he had a chance to end the game) to catch the baseball behind his back.

A practical joker, Castillo was at his best in the clubhouse at Tiger Stadium after the win, pouring champagne on anyone within arm’s reach.

The crowning moment of Castillo’s career came in Game Three of the 1984 World Series in Detroit. With the game scoreless in the second, Castillo came up to face Tim Lollar with a runner on and two outs. Lollar tried to sneak a fastball by, but Castillo drove it into the first few rows of the upper deck in left field for a two-run home run. The blast ignited a four-run rally, the Tigers won the game 5-2 to take a two games to one lead in the series. The game had extra meaning to Castillo: his pregnant wife was at the contest on her due date. Their first child would be born a week later.

1984 WS Gm3: Castillo belts a two-run jack in the 2nd - YouTube

Castillo started Game Five and got on base three times, with two hits and a walk. He was one third base in the eighth inning when Kirk Gibson hit his mammoth home run off Goose Gossage to seal the championship.

He was back with the team in 1985, serving mostly as a second-string catcher behind Parrish. But things didn’t go as well that season for Marty, who hit just .119 with a pair of home runs in 57 games. Detroit released him in January of 1986 and his career was over. He’s been one of the most elusive members of the ’84 team, missing in action from reunions, his whereabouts uncertain.

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Baseball is an imitation game. All sports are. Once you show you can have success shooting threes or using a run/pass option offense, other teams will copy it. In the early 1980s, a new pitch was the rage in baseball, a pitch that Bruce Sutter was using with phenomenal success out of the bullpen. They called it the forkball because the index and middle fingers surrounded the baseball on either side, like the tines of a fork. That pitch, also related closely to the split-finger fastball (or splitter) was completely responsible for Sutter being in the Hall of Fame, and also helped Jack Morris get to the same place.

Before he learned the forkball from teammate Milt Wilcox in 1982, (who had been in the Cubs’ organization with Sutter in the 1970s), Morris relied on a fastball, slider, and a pretty bad changeup. With the forkball, Morris had a pitch that complemented his fastball and made him very difficult to hit against because he was able to use the same art slot for the pitch as he did his breaking ball.  

“A forkball actually comes out of your hand with the rotation of a curveball,” Morris explains. “Because of the pressure on your fingers, there’s no way you’re going to have the same velocity you do with your fastball, therefore it’s kind of like an offspeed curveball. Once I learned how to keep it down, and literally bounce it at times, a hitter couldn’t sit on both. He couldn’t sit on a fastball and a forkball. It’s a devastating pitch.”

Catcher Lance Parrish became expert at handling the pitch. “The way [Morris] threw it, it came out like a fastball then it fell, like it was dropping off a table,” Parrish said. “I can’t count how many batters walked away shaking their heads at that goofy pitch.”

Mike Scioscia, catcher for the Dodgers, called it “the pitch of the ’80s,” and it helped many pitchers achieve success, including Mike Scott, who won the Cy Young Award in 1986. Ron Darling, David Cone, and Randy Johnson also used the pitch effectively.

Less than two years after learning the forkball, Morris had the pitch going very well in his second start in April of 1984 at Comiskey Park in Chicago. It was a Saturday afternoon and the game between the Tigers and White Sox was on national television. Morris had his forkball dropping so much that day that he walked six batters, walked the bases loaded early in the game. The pitch was bouncing in front of catcher Lance Parrish, but Morris had such good stuff on it that he escaped trouble. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh, the eighth, finally the ninth inning. The White Sox barely got the ball past the mound, bounced grounders to first or back to Morris. He struck out a few guys and got his no-hitter, the first by a Detroit pitcher in more than two decades. Morris later estimated that he threw 40 percent forkballs in the game.

The Detroit pitching coach for most of the years Morris was with Detroit was Roger Craig, who loved the forball (or split-finger fastball as some called it). Craig was sort of the Yoda of the forkball, teaching it to any pitcher who would listen. Dan Petry became a pupil too and it made Detroit’s #2 starter one of the better pitchers in the league in the early 1980s. But Morris was his star pupil.

No pitcher in baseball started more games, completed more games, pitched more innings, or won more games in the 1980s than Morris, who used his forkball as a critical part of his repertoire. Later, in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series, pitching in a scoreless game with the runners on the corners, Morris went to his favorite pitch to escape the jam, striking out Ron Gant in the fifth. In the eighth when the Braves had the bases loaded with one out, Morris dropped a forkball on Sid Bream, who grounded into an inning-ending 3-2-3 double play. Eventually Morris tossed ten scoreless innings and won the game 1-0 to clinch the title. And that “goofy pitch” was key to his success.

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Davy Jones, Ty Cobb, and Saw Crawford (L to R) together in New York after Crawford was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1957. (Detroit Public Library photo)

On August 29, 1905, the lives of two people changed dramatically when one of them stepped off a train in Detroit. Both men went on to fame and success, and they were colleagues for more than a dozen years, but life was never the same for Sam Crawford after Ty Cobb arrived.

Cobb was 18 years old when he reported to the Tigers and he’d never been north of the Mason-Dixon Line. He was “green,” “raw,”—however you want to put it—he was a fish out of water. The only thing Cobb knew for certain was that he was determined to make it in the big leagues. He was going to prove that his decision to become a baseball player was wise. But Cobb was unprepared for the reception he got from his new teammates.

In 1905, 25-year old Sam Crawford was a star, one of the best baseball players in the league. He was strong, one of the premier sluggers of that era, and he was quick and a good baserunner. After manager Hughie Jennings, Crawford was the leader of the team. Cobb’s presence late in an uneventful season shook things up.

When a rookie arrived in the big leagues back then, he was not welcomed with a fruit basket. The veteran players would shun new guys, or worse. What was the worse? Try having your spikes nailed to the floor, or your bats being chopped into pieces. Most violently, new players were hazed. But this wasn’t the sort of hazing we’re used to now, the innocent type that serves as a test of the new guy’s resolve. The hazing in the deadball era was vicious. Rookies were attacked for any sign of weakness, anything that made them stand out.

The young Ty Cobb had two things that made him stand out: he was very high-strung and he was a rube from Georgia. Shortly after he pulled an Old English D wool jersey over his head, Cobb’s teammates pounced on him. His manner of speech, his ill-fitting suit, his shyness, all of it was used against Cobb. As Cobb was being greased by the mob, Crawford stood at the top of the food chain in the clubhouse. He didn’t razz Ty as much as some others (outfielder Matty McIntyre was the ringleader), but Sam did nothing to stop it.

Did I mention that three weeks before he stepped off the train in Detroit, Cobb’s father was shot and killed by his mother in Georgia? Did I mention that Ty rushed home and buried his dad and then had to endure the beginnings of his mother’s trial for murder? That all of this had just happened and here he was making his big league debut? Can you imagine a team hazing a young man who just endured that tragedy? Well, it was a different time.

Cobb later shared in his autobiography that he used the hazing to fuel his drive to be the best. “These old-timers turned me into a snarling wildcat,” he wrote.

The relationship that developed between Crawford and Cobb stamped itself on the Tigers for the 13 years they were teammates. Crawford initially saw Cobb as a curiosity, a backwards southerner who couldn’t relax. One time early in his second season, Cobb was waiting to take his turn for batting practice. McIntyre and catcher Boss Schmidt, a large man, took turns nudging Cobb aside, jumping in front of him. Cobb eventually stormed off.

Crawford came to see Ty as a threat, especially when Cobb took the starting job away from McIntyre which forced Sam to switch from right to center. Eventually Crawford and Cobb flip-flopped positions, but even though they played next to each other for many years, the temperature between them was Arctic cold.

Crawford resented Cobb’s success, his ascension to stardom, but Wahoo Sam grew to resent everything about the Georgian. He couldn’t even admire Cobb for any of the traits that Crawford himself exhibited. Crawford took the game seriously, but Cobb took it too seriously. Crawford was an aggressive player, but Cobb’s daring baserunning was to “show off.” Crawford yearned to achieve financial success, but when Cobb held out for money he was being selfish. No matter what Cobb did, Crawford wouldn’t like it. Cobb quickly realized Crawford disliked him, and let’s face it he was often an ass, so he did his share to rupture the relationship too. The teammates maintained a frosty partnership in Detroit, useful to one another, but disdainful. After about 1912, Crawford probably never said more than a dozen words to Cobb. In 1912, when Cobb was briefly suspended by the league for confronting a fan in the stands for heckling him, most of the players on the Tigers supported Ty, refusing to play until he was reinstated. Crawford did not say a word.

In 1910, when players on the Browns conspired to throw the batting crown to Nap Lajoie so Cobb wouldn’t win it, Crawford was reportedly one of the Detroit players who sent a telegram to Lajoie congratulating him.

Understandably, Cobb overshadowed Crawford, anyone who wins twelve batting titles is going to do that. But Crawford was an incredible player in his own right. Chicago outfielder Fielder Jones said of him, “None of them can hit quite as hard as Crawford. He stands up at the plate like a brick house and he hits all the pitchers, without playing favorites.”

Cobb batted in front of Crawford for most of their years in the lineup. When Cobb got on base (which he did about 45 percent of the time) he was a menace on the basepaths. Crawford learned to deal with that, he learned to concentrate at the plate with Ty bouncing off the bag, stealing a base, maybe two. The two men were on base at the same time a lot, probably as much as any other pair in history outside of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell (or maybe Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, or Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell). But I digress, the point is that Cobb and Crawford were on base together often and they coordinated a series of signals that helped them pull of double steals. The two men must have huddled together at some point to scheme. If Cobb was on second in front of Crawford and he kicked the bag a certain number of times, it signalled a double steal, if he whistled and kicked it meant he was stealing, and so on. The two men hated each other, but they arranged a system to cooperate on the diamond.

The rift between the two former Tigers continued after they retired from the field. In the 1940s when The Sporting News published a story about Crawford’s career, Cobb wrote a letter to a sportswriter friend who worked for the paper. In his letter, Cobb reportedly claimed that Crawford was jealous of his success, never assisted Cobb when he was a young player, and intentionally fouled off pitches when Ty was trying to steal bases. Crawford later learned of the letter and bristled. If anything the letter showed how petty Cobb could be and how serious the dislike was between the two men.

It’s been said of Cobb and Crawford that they had the worst relationship of any long-term superstar teammates in baseball history. I’m not sure about that. Jeff Kent hated the guts, the bones, and the marrow of Barry Bonds, and Bonds disregarded Kent like he did everyone. I will say this: Jeff Kent will never campaign for Barry Bonds to make the Hall of Fame, or vice versa. But Ty Cobb made sure Wahoo Sam got into the Hall.

For years, Cobb wrote letters pushing for his old teammate to be elected, which Crawford was in 1957. Sam reportedly wrote a letter to Cobb thanking him for his support and when they saw each other on the porch of the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown for induction weekend, Wahoo Sam embraced his old teammate.

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Dave Bergman and Willie Hernandez were the final touches to the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

As spring training was winding down in 1984, Sparky Anderson asked general manager Bill Lajoie to meet with him in his office at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland. He had a specific topic in mind.

Sparky knew his team was poised to make a run at a division title. But he also knew it wouldn’t be easy. Their challengers would be many, starting with the defending world champion Orioles, but including the talented Brewers, the always dangerous Yankees, and even the young Blue Jays. All of those teams had won at least 87 games in the tough AL East in 1983.

Lajoie had barely gotten into his chair when Anderson started his sales pitch: he needed a lefthanded reliever to balance his bullpen. Sparky wanted a marquee relief pitcher, preferred someone who had experience pitching late in games. A few names were thrown out: Sparky loved Gary Lavelle, the lefty in San Francisco, and he liked Al Holland of the Phillies. Terry Forster and Sid Monge were mentioned. Lajoie liked a young pitcher on the White Sox named Juan Agosto. After several minutes with Sparky promising that a lefty reliever would make his team championship quality, Lajoie agreed to make some calls.

Just a few weeks before the Tigers broke camp to start the regular season, Lajoie pulled the trigger on a trade with the Phillies to get first baseman Dave Bergman and a relief pitcher named Willie Hernandez. When he told Sparky about the deal, the silver-haired Tiger skipper didn’t even mind that the cost was young outfielder Glenn Wilson and catcher John Wockenfuss. Sparky was just ecstatic to get Hernandez. “When they got Hernandez,” Sparky said, “I said ‘No one can stop us’ “.

The trade that brought Bergman and Hernandez to Detroit has become known as one the greatest in Detroit sports history. Hernandez was nearly unhittable in 1984, and the Tigers won the World Series. But there’s a lot more to the story of the two players that came to Detroit in that March 1984 deal.

This is the third in our series on the players of the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

MVP and Cy Young winner Willie Hernandez

The left-handed relief specialist had two lives with the Detroit Tigers. In one he was heralded as the savior in a championship season, the golden arm entrusted with striking the final blows of victory, his hands thrust triumphantly into the air at the climactic moment of the season.

In the other he was a fall guy riddled with boos like a villain in a Saturday matinee. In the first life he was known as “Willie,” in the other he went by “Guillermo.”

When the team announced that they had acquired Hernandez in a last-second spring training trade in 1984, the reaction was swift and universally negative. Hardly anyone knew much about Willie and Dave Bergman, the other player who came to the Tigers in the trade. But it was who the Tigers lost that peeved their fans. To get the lefthanded reliever, the club had parted with young outfielder Glenn Wilson and popular utility man John Wockenfuss. It didn’t matter how excited manager Sparky Anderson was about the deal, the fans were not happy.

“When they got me [Hernandez], I knew we’d won the pennant,” Sparky later said.

Whether the Detroit skipper was really that confident or not, we’ll never know, but Hernandez was brimming with confidence. It was a key component of his game.

When Hernandez entered a game from the relative mystery of the bullpen he was a picture of poise. His back was straight, his posture perfect, his chest thrust forward. There was no fidgeting once he was one the mound, he was all business.

By the time the Tigers had bounded out to a 35-5 record the anger over the trade was largely forgotten in Tiger Nation. The team was winning rather easily and Willie was not drawing much special attention. But by the end of the 1984 season the fans, his teammates, and the rest of the American League realized how special the lefty was as he produced one of finest seasons ever by a relief pitcher.

Hernandez was 32-for-33 in save opportunities in 1984, his only failure coming late in the season. He pitched in an amazing 80 games and finished 68 of them while logging an incredible 140 1/3 innings. It was the type of workload rarely seen from a bullpen warrior, but Hernandez strutted in each time he was summoned by Sparky, slaying opposing batters time and time again. He struck out 112 batters and posted a 1.92 ERA, serving as the exclamation point in victory after victory.

Willie was on the mound when the team clinched the division title, the pennant, and finally the World Series at Tiger Stadium. It was a dream season.

In true “what have you done for me lately” fashion, two years later Hernandez was hearing boos when he entered games. His crime? He wasn’t as perfect as he’d been in 1984. In truth, Hernandez had been very effective in 1985 and 1986 before suffering an injury the following season. But what happened in 1988 was truly unforgivable as far as Detroit fans were concerned. That year, Hernandez decided that he no longer wanted to be called by the Anglicized version of his first name and instead preferred to be known by his given name: Guillermo.

Under the “new” name, Hernandez was hounded by fans and retaliated with a surly season. He eventually got himself into a controversy when he poured a bucket of water on a sportswriter in the clubhouse and after an injury in 1989 he tossed his final pitch in the big leagues.

For one season and then a few more, Hernandez was one of the most beloved figures in Detroit sports history. In 1984 he was as automatic as anyone ever was in his role. Largely because of his efforts, that season was magical in the city.

Bergie: the Consummate Professional

Dave Bergman was a 17-year veteran of the major leagues where he was one of the most versatile and valuable utility players in modern history.

When Bergman arrived in a trade from the Phillies just prior to the end of spring training in 1984 it was an unpopular move. John Wockenfuss, a popular role player, was dealt away in the deal that brought Bergman and Willie Hernandez to the Tigers. Few knew what to make of the transaction, but it didn’t take long for Bergman to make an impression. In the first week of the season, on April 7, in a nationally televised Saturday game, Jack Morris carried a no-hitter late into the afternoon at old Comiskey Park in Chicago. Manager Sparky Anderson inserted Bergman into the game at first base in the bottom of the seventh inning. As if he had a magnet in his glove, Bergman found himself in the mix on practically every out the rest of the way. He fielded a grounder to his right and flipped the ball to Morris to end the seventh, and in the eighth he made two plays on grounders, one of them a dazzling pick of a hard-hit ball that he ranged far to his right to grab. It was Bergie’s coming out party as a Tiger.

If the Morris no-hitter was when Detroit fans learned who Bergman was, a game against Toronto in June was when fans fell in love with him. Bergman came to the plate at Tiger Stadium in a tie game in the tenth inning and two men on base in a game at Tiger Stadium on June 4th against the Blue Jays, their sole challenger that season. Facing Toronto reliever Roy Lee Jackson, Bergman fouled off the first five pitches and nine overall in a grueling battle. On the 13th pitch he smacked a low breaking ball to right field that traveled into the upper deck for a three-run walkoff home run. It was his masterpiece as a member of the Tigers, an epic at-bat that epitomized the toughness of that team and of Dave Bergman.

David Bruce Bergman was born on June 6, 1953, in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up a fan of the Chicago Cubs. Ernie Banks was Bergman’s favorite player when he was a boy. After a fine prep athletic career at Maine South High in Park Ridge, Bergman was selected by the Cubs in the 1971 amateur draft but chose to go to college at tiny Illinois State. In college he displayed a tremendous work ethic and ended up earning All-American status, the first for that school. The Yankees drafted Bergman in 1974 and he proceeded to win two batting titles in the minor leagues, eventually earning a brief summons to the Yanks during the ’75 season.

Bergman was a left-hander, both at the plate and with the glove. He was tall and slender at 6-foot-1, but muscular enough at 185 pounds to pack some pop in his bat. Despite opening eyes with his batting titles as a Yankee farmhand, Bergman quickly drew praise for his glove work.

“I always worked hard to be a good fielder,” Bergman said years later. “If I could help my team with my glove I wanted to do that. Defense is just as important as any part of the game.”

Stuck in a logjam as an outfielder in the Yankees’ system, Bergman was dealt to the Houston Astros in November of 1977. The Trade changed Bergman’s fortunes forever. Bill Virdon, the Houston manager, gave the young ballplayer advice that made Bergman rethink his approach to the game. “He told me I could play 15 years in the major leagues if I started to accept the job I was best suited for,” Bergman recalled later. That job was as a utility player.

Resigned to his role as a part-time outfielder, defensive first base replacement, and occasional pinch-hitter, Bergman’s career took off in Houston and later in San Francisco in the early 1980s. It was with the Giants that Bergman played under Frank Robinson who taught him to pay attention to the fine details of the game. His diligence paid off — Bergman spent 17 years in the majors despite rarely being given a starting role.

When Bergman came to Detroit in ’84 he quickly earned a fan in manager Sparky Anderson.

“In all the years I’ve managed Dave, there’s never been one time – not one game – that he didn’t come to the park ready to play,” Sparky said of Bergman.

Bergman started two games in the 1984 World Series though he failed to get a hit in the Fall Classic. It hardly mattered to Dave however, who was immensely proud of being a part of that championship team. He was on the field at first base for the final outs of Game Five when Tiger Stadium went delirious. When Bergman joined his teammates for the 25th anniversary of that title in 2009 he proclaimed the ’84 season as the proudest accomplishment of his career.

Bergman played nine seasons with the Tigers, finally hanging up his spikes after the 1992 season. He was, along with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Kirk Gibson, one of the last players from the ’84 team to wear a Detroit uniform as a player.

Bergman was never a star on the diamond, though his home run in ’84 at Tiger Stadium after that 13-pitch at-bat remains one of the most famous moments in Tiger history. He was immensely proud to have been a big leaguer, proud to have won a World Series ring in 1984, and proud to call Detroit his home.

After a battle with illness, Bergman died at the age of 61 on February 2, 2015, in Detroit.

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Larry Herndon and Chet Lemon were outfielders for the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

In 1982, two years before the magic, the Tigers went north from spring training with two new outfielders. Neither of the outfielders was a product of the farm system, they were both outsiders. They each had something to prove with their new team.

Fans didn’t know what to expect when they saw the names of Larry Herndon and Chet Lemon in a Tiger lineup for the first time in ’82. Initially, Sparky Anderson used Lemon as a leadoff hitter and played him in right field. Center field belonged to young Kirk Gibson, the muscle-bound thoroughbred from Michigan State. Herndon hit fifth and played left field.

Sparky got that figured out, he realized Chester Earl Lemon was perfectly equipped to run down fly balls in the wide expanse of center field at Tiger Stadium. Herndon’s bat earned him the #3 spot in the Detroit lineup, and in his first two seasons as a member of the team, quiet Larry was arguably the best offensive player on the club.

Lemon was an All-Star in 1984, and Herndon saved his best for the postseason. He hit two home runs, one in Game One of the AL Playoffs against the Royals, and the other a game-deciding two-run shot in Game One of the World Series in San Diego. Herndon hit his share of key homers in a Tiger uniform, and perhaps fittingly, it was he who caught the final out of the ’84 World Series, sprinting in for a catch in shallow left field at The Corner to end Game Five.

This is the second article that looks at members of the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers. I hope you enjoy these profiles. Please leave comments below to share your memories of that team and these players.

All smiles: Chet the Jet in center

When Steve Kemp was traded to the White Sox after the 1981 season, most Tiger fans were outraged. Kemp was a lunch-pail sort of guy with a five o’clock shadow and a ferocious swing that endeared him to Detroit faithful. Usually, Kemp drove in about 90-100 runs, but the Tiger front office noticed something that most fans didn’t: Kemp’s bat had slowed. In return for their RBI-man, the Tigers received Chet Lemon, a center fielder born to play in spacious Tiger Stadium’s middle pasture. Over the next nine seasons, Chester won over Tiger fans with his stellar defense, headfirst slides into first base, extra-base power, and especially his bright, wide smile. Lemon was a joy to the fans, his teammates, and his manager.

“I won’t worry about nothing in center field as long as that guy’s out there,” Sparky Anderson said during the height of the 1980s when Lemon was roaming the Tiger Stadium outfield. Lemon ran down almost everything that was hit into center and often balls that were sent to right and left too. He also acclimated himself to the home ballpark, and he hit 20 homers in 1984 when the Bengals won the World Series, the same season he was an All-Star starter.

Lemon earned a reputation as somewhat of a free spirit among his teammates. Chet loved to laugh, smile, and play pranks in the clubhouse. According to one source, Lemon was usually the highest-fined member of the team in kangaroo court. Some of those fines stemmed from strange plays on the field. Lemon was a notoriously poor baserunner, normally making a few boneheaded plays on the base paths each season. While his speed and instincts were an asset on the glove side, he thought too much of his legs when he was on base.

WDIV Detroit: 1986 Tiger Baseball Chet Lemon Promo - YouTube

There were three idiosyncratic things Lemon became known for. First, was his penchant for being hit by a pitched ball. The right-handed hitter stood very close to the plate and in his normal stance he floated his hands out over the strike zone. Four times he led the American League in being plunked, and he was hit 151 times in all during his career.

Second, he was famous for sliding headfirst into first base. Usually 10-12 times a season, “Chet The Jet” could be seen hurling himself face first into the bag in a cloud of infield dirt. I don’t think he was ever safe, but Lemon was convinced the tactic got him to the bag quicker.

Lastly, Lemon employed the use of a raggedy baseball glove that he used for so many years that it had patches and holes in it. Lemon insisted on using the glove, choosing to repair it to good standing each spring and carefully protecting it. The leather mitt served him well: Chet caught more fly balls than any other outfielder in the game three times, setting an American League record for putouts in 1977. Somehow, despite his amazing range and sure hands, Lemon never won a Gold Glove Award.

It didn’t take long for Detroit fans to latch on to Chet. By his second season, in 1983 (when he swatted a career-high 24 homers), Lemon had earned a legion of fans who liked to seat themselves in the upper deck bleachers in Tiger Stadium. Few players in the history of the franchise have enjoyed a more intimate relationship with their fans than #34.

By 1990, Lemon was slowing and the Tigers were too. He played his final game for Detroit on October 3. No one knew other than Chet that it would be his final game. In that contest at Yankee Stadium, Lemon had three hits, one of them a double. As if to say goodbye in style, the 35-year old slid head first into second for that double, popping to his feet with a smile for his teammates.

Quiet Larry: the Unappreciated Career of Larry Herndon

During his seven seasons as a Detroit Tiger, Larry Herndon said very little. He was famous for being quiet, rarely giving interviews. But his bat did more than enough talking for him, and he delivered several big hits, including one of the most important home runs in Tiger history.

Originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, Herndon was tall and lean with long legs and a lengthy stride. He was built much like an NFL defensive back, displaying an impressive athletic quality. He had a quick bat and was known as a talented fly chaser in the outfield during his National league days, spent with the Cardinals and Giants. Detroit nabbed him in the 1981 off-season, intent on slotting him into an outfield that featured Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson. Herndon was expected to provide defensive range and some speed at the plate. He ended up being the team’s best hitter for the next two seasons.

In his first season as a Tiger, Herndon made an immediate impression, hitting .350 in May. That month he hit home runs in four straight plate appearances, tying a major league record. For the season the right-handed hitter batted .292 while leading the team in runs, hits, triples, and runs batted in. He also swiped 12 bases and established himself as Sparky Anderson’s number three hitter. The following year he improved on nearly all of his numbers, batting .302 with 20 homers, 182 hits, and 92 RBIs.

In 1984 he split time in left field with Ruppert Jones and others. As the Tigers roared from the gate to take a stranglehold on the race, Herndon struggled. But in the last two months of the season he hit over .350, setting himself up for dramatics in the post-season.

In Game One of the playoffs against the Kansas City Royals, Herndon launched a solo homer in the fourth inning to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead that they never surrendered. His victim was Buddy Black, a lefthander. Herndon was especially effective against southpaws. In Game One of the World Series in San Diego against the Padres, Herndon hit a deep homer to right field off lefty Mark Thurmond that plated two runs and gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead that Jack Morris never relinquished. A few days later, it was Herndon who sprinted in to catch the final out of the Series in left field at Tiger Stadium as Detroit won the title to cap one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history.

1984 WS Gm1: Herndon belts a two-run home run in 5th - YouTube

But Herndon was far from done as a Tiger hero. Though his playing time diminished after ’84, he was still effective. In 1987, with the Tigers on their way to the best record in baseball, Herndon hit .324 with nine homers and 47 RBIs in a platoon role.

On the final day of the ’87 season, with the Tigers holding a one-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they were facing in Tiger Stadium, Herndon delivered the biggest hit of his career. Getting the start against Toronto’s ace lefty Jimmy Key, Herndon hit a line drive homer into the left field stands in the second inning to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. It was one of only three hits off Key that day, but it was enough. Frank Tanana pitched a shutout and the Tigers won 1-0 to clinch the division in dramatic fashion.

As he had in 1984, Herndon performed well in the postseason in 1987, hitting .333 with two RBIs in three games against the Minnesota Twins. It was his final appearance in the postseason, however. 1988 proved to be his final season, as he struggled offensively. On September 16 he hit his final major league homer. He retired with a .274 career average, 107 homers, and more than 1,300 hits. But though he was a popular player in Detroit and central in many important moments in franchise history, Herndon had a low profile as a player.

“Hondo just came to the park and played,” recalls teammate Rod Allen.

Despite his quiet nature between the lines, Herndon had an excellent rapport with his teammates and the organization. In 1992 he became a coach under Sparky, a post he held with the big league club for seven seasons. Though Herndon never said much or demanded attention, his place in Tiger history is secure.

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Photo courtesy Flickr (https://weheartit.com/bbbbreekachu)

The Detroit Tigers open their regular season home schedule on Thursday, April 4th at Comerica Park.

Opening Day in Detroit is almost a holiday, and even though you might still have to go to work that day and even though the Tigers are going to be on the losing side a lot in 2019, the excitement is high for this team.

If you’re planning to visit Detroit to see the Tigers this season, you’ll need to prepare. Here are nine tips to help make your visit to Comerica Park enjoyable.

1. Park and walk

Parking in official lots near Comerica Park are expensive, but they also rob more than your wallet – they rob your chance to see part of downtown Detroit. Park a block away or even further if your health allows (or of you could use the exercise). Several bars and restaurants nearby offer parking with purchase and even offer a shuttle to the ballpark if you want to do that.

2. Take the kids and ride the Ferris Wheel

Normally I’m not a big fan of the extra distractions at ballparks, I like to concentrate on the game. But this season, with 95+ losses staring at the Tabbies, go ahead and hop on the Ferris Wheel. The view at the top is great (perfect for a selfie if that’s your thing). If there was ever a time to bring the kids, it’s 2019, when the team is offering some affordable family packages to get butts in the seats. More on that below.

3. Eat, Drink, and Be Cheer-y

One of the joys of seeing a baseball game in person is the food and refreshments. Did you know the Tigers have a chef at Comerica Park? His name is Mark Szubeczak, and he has one of the best jobs anywhere. It’s Mark’s responsibility to come up with great food for us to scarf down at games. This year the Tigers have announced a few new menu items.

We’re excited to taste the new Bahn Mi sandwich, which according to the Free Press is “a thick slab of bacon topped with Asian slaw and sriracha aioli.” The team also added a Coney Dog Egg Roll(!) and a French Onion Burger.

Health conscious? This year you can get a Garden Salad Jars at Comerica Park. The perfect way to eat a salad at a ballpark: add dressing of choice and just hake it up and eat. Clever.

4. Choose game specials

If you’re going to be forced to see a team in rebuild mode you may as well get cheaper tickets or a giveaway.

Make plans for Miguel Cabrera bobblehead night (July 6th against the world champion Boston Red Sox), or one of the many other giveaways. You can get a Game of Thrones bobblehead featuring manager Ron Gardenhire. Star Wars Night (May 4th against the Royals), and even three days when you can bring your dog to the park (May 21st, June 25th, and September 16th) for Bark at the Park. The team will also host several college themed giveaways where fans will get a cap with a Tigers logo and a university logo on the side.

Special ticket prices are in effect for afternoon weekday home games and multi-game packages, also large groups can be accommodated by the ticket office. Visit MLB.com for details.

5. Watch baseball under the sun

The Tigers will play 38 home games (out of 81 total) during the day in 2019, most of them on Saturdays and Sundays, of course. Day baseball is the best, it’s the way the baseball gods intended the game to be played. The Tigers played all of their home games during the day until June of 1948 when they finally switched the lights on at old Briggs Stadium. A day game at Comerica Park is a treat, with beautiful daytime skylines to see beyond the outfield walls.

Want to play hooky from work or school? Grab a weekday day game, there are 18 in all: five in April, three in May, two in June, one in July, three in August, and four in September.

6. Don’t have high expectations

What;s the key to never being disappointed? Lower your expectations. Let’s be honest: the Tigers are in year three of a long-term rebuild. They freely admit they are going to be learning on the field, finding out who can play, who can’t. These are not your father’s Tigers. This is not a playoff team. It’s probably a last place team. Go into the ballpark with that in your mind and just enjoy the experience.

7. Get a scorecard

Can you tell Daniel Stumpf from Spencer Turnbull? Do you know Jody Mercer from Josh Harrison? Have you ever heard of Dustin Peterson? The Tigers will be using a lot of young, untested players in 2019. Let’s face it, they’ll probably break a team record for most pitchers used. A lot of these guys should have their photos on a milk jug, not a baseball card. Sure, you’ll recognize Miggy, but if you don’t know what the hell a Niko is or how to tell if your Baez is Sandy…you’re going to need a roster. Grab a scorecard or a yearbook to keep track of all these guys.

8. Appreciate Miguel Cabrera

Here’s one for you: how many right-handed batters in baseball history have amassed as many as 400 home runs, 1,500 runs batted in, and a career .300 batting average? The answer is seven: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Thomas, and Miguel Cabrera. Let that sink in. In order to be on that list you have to not only have power, but be a run producer and hit the ball well, making contact well enough to hit for a high average. Of all those players, Miggy is the only one with four batting titles and only Foxx also won a triple crown.

We’re lucky to have Cabrera in a Detroit uniform. Still lucky. Even though he’s battled injuries the last couple of seasons, Cabrera has given the Tigers an historic run in his 11 seasons in the Old English D. Would you believe there are fans who have turned on him? There are Tigers fans who are piling on Miguel Cabrera even after he gave them two MVP seasons, a triple crown, four batting crowns, and two home run crowns. This guy has played hurt, he’s played hard, and he is always smiling on the diamond. Shame on any Tiger fans who can’t appreciate his greatness.

Don’t take Cabrera for granted, enjoy him as he closes out his career. At 36 in 2019, I wouldn’t count this guy out. The great ones are greater for longer than anyone else. Cabrera is also approaching several milestones: he’s 324 hits away from 3,000, and also closing in on 600 doubles and 500 home runs. If all goes well, Miggy will reach those milestones in the next two years, and if he does he would join Aaron and Pujols as the only players with 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, and 500 homers.

9. Shop in downtown Detroit and save

Have you heard about the renewal going on in Detroit? This city never buckles, and despite tough times in the last few decades and the loss of many people, Detroit is enjoying an exciting revival. New restaurants, bars, and shops are opening in downtown Detroit and the surrounding neighborhoods. Whether you want to grab a craft beer, buy a great new sweatshirt (stop by our showroom near the old site of Tiger Stadium in Corktown), or eat lunch, Detroit has something to offer. I hope you explore.

What do you like to do when you come into Detroit for a ballgame? Tell me in the comments section below.

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Catchers Bill Freehan and Bob Boone nearly swapped places.

The Detroit Tigers were a team in transition in 1974. Late in the summer they released popular first baseman Norm Cash. A few days later they traded “The Silver Fox”, outfielder Jim Northrup. And most importantly, Al Kaline ended his 22 years as the face of the franchise, waving goodbye to his fans at Tiger Stadium in the final game of the season in October. The team was aging out, in need of a face lift.

The general manager was a dour man named Jim Campbell, a round man with a bald head and a stern demeanor. He was conservative, probably a little to the right of Attila The Hun. As Campbell looked around baseball he saw long hair, mustaches, and polyester uniforms. He didn’t like it. In his view, baseball was tradition and he wanted to keep it that way. But Campbell recognized his Tigers were growing long in the tooth and he entered the offseason with the goal of making the club younger and better.

Catcher Bill Freehan was the unquestioned leader of the Tigers, had been for years. Though Kaline had been the senior man on the roster, Al was quiet and preferred to lead by example, avoiding confrontation. A rah-rah guy he was not. In contrast, Freehan would yell at his teammates, urge them on, take charge on the field. He was one of the few remaining pillars from the team that won the World Series in 1968 and a division title just two years prior.

In 1974, Freehan had another fine season. He hit 18 home runs and batted .297 in 130 games, also driving in 60 runs. The ten-time All-Star was starting to split time between catching and resting his knees at first base. But at 32 years of age he was still an imposing figure, tall and strong.

With many of the familiar Tigers already gone, Campbell set out at the annual winter meetings to use one of his final chips to get something in return. He started calling teams and offering Freehan. Many clubs were interested in the veteran signal caller, and a few back-of-the-napkin deals were sketched out, but eventually a trade was configured with the Philadelphia Phillies. But at the last second it would fall apart, a fact that irritated Campbell to no end.

The Phillies were emerging from a decade-long stretch of mediocrity. In 1974 they won 80 games, nothing to get too thrilled about under normal circumstances. But it was their highest win total in seven seasons. Their third place finish in the NL East was their highest since 1964. The Phils had some good young players in place: pitcher Steve Carlton, young third baseman Mike Schmidt, power-hitting outfielder Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, and second baseman Dave Cash. But the Pirates loomed ahead of them and they needed something extra to push themselves to the top of the standings.

Campbell huddled with his Philadelphia counterpart, a man named Paul Owens, general manger of the Phillies. Owens looked a lot like Campbell, he was a white, middle-aged bald man. He got his nickname “The Pope” because he bore a striking resemblance to Pope Paul VI. Unlike Campbell, Owens was a former player, manager, and coach. He had spent more than two decades on the field, in dugouts, up close with the game. He was also more loose than Campbell, he didn’t mind having a drink or two. He and Campbell worked out the details of a trade that would send Freehan to Philly.

The Tigers would send the five-time Gold Glove winning catcher to the Phils along with pitcher Woodie Fryman and a minor league pitcher. In return the Tigers would receive catcher Bob Boone, infield prospect Todd Cruz, and young lefthanded pitcher Tom Underwood. The move would give the Phillies an established star and make the Tigers younger, filling needs on their roster.

On the second day of the winter meetings, Campbell and Owens agreed to the deal and both sides proceeded to draft the paperwork. Campbell would need to contact Freehan and secure his approval. Under a new rule, players with at least ten years in the big leagues and at least five years with their current team (called “Ten and Five Rights”) had the right of refusing a trade. But before Campbell could get in contact with his catcher, the phone in his hotel room rang. It was Owens and the deal was off.

Campbell was livid. He had gotten Owens verbal okay for the deal, the two men had agreed. But Owens informed the Tigers’ GM that his advisers had nixed the trade. The Phillies front office loved Boone, a 26-year old catcher and son of former All-Star third baseman Ray Boone. The young catcher had finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 1973, and though he took a step backward at the plate in 1974, he was considered an emerging defensive star behind the plate. The Philadelphia coaching staff didn’t want to lose him. The Phils had a second young catcher named John Stearns who they liked as well, he was a better hitter than Boone, but the organization was convinced Boone would help their pitching staff. The deal was most certainly dead.

Stymied, Campbell took his beef to the press. “In all my years in the game, I’ve not seen anything like this,” he complained. “We had this deal and it held up other moves and actions with players. Now it’s fallen apart.”

Campbell scrambled and ended up trading Fryman to Montreal for Terry Humphrey and Tom Walker, a bad deal considering Fryman pitched nine more years, until he was 43 years old. But that was the only consequential deal the Detroit GM was able to make at the meetings. The aborted Freehan trade had left him without an alternate plan.

Freehan remained a Tiger, was an All-Star in 1975. But it was his last full season as a catcher, and after one last hurrah in 1976, he retired at the age of 34. He was one of the best catchers in Detroit history, went on to mentor young Lance Parrish at the position as a spring instructor, and later managed his alma mater, the Michigan Wolverines.

The Phillies made the correct decision. Boone won two Gold Gloves in Philadelphia and was a force behind the plate as the Phils won five division titles in six seasons from 1976 to 1981. In the 1980 World Series he hit .412 and helped the team to their first championship. He ended up playing 19 seasons and at one time he held the record for most games caught. In all he won seven Gold Gloves and was a three-time All-Star.

Ultimately the Tigers didn’t need Bob Boone, they had Parrish a few years later. Freehan was able to finish his career in a Detroit uniform and maintain his relationship with the franchise. Boone’s career went wonderfully, he even became a major league manager. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

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Dave Rozema and Milt Wilcox

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the 1984 season, a season that lives on as one of the greatest in the history of Detroit sports.

The 1984 Tigers did it all. They bounced from the gate to win 35 of their first 40 games, including a record 17 straight on the road. They were in first place every day of the season, and won a franchise-record 104 games. The team showed their greatness in the postseason, winning seven of eight games to claim the World Series title. It remains the last championship won by Detroit’s beloved baseball team.

We don’t love baseball because of the numbers, and we don’t love baseball only because of accomplishments. We love it because it connects with us, and over the course of a six-month season the game becomes part of our lives. The players are like members of our family. Over 180+ days through 162 games beamed into our homes via television or radio (or now the Internet), the game weaves into the fabric of our daily existence.

The 1984 Tigers are not only great because of their successes, they are great because of the men who wore the uniform. The players who came together to form that team were from various backgrounds, different regions and countries, and they had unique baseball stories. Some of them were young, some were veterans, some were in the primes of their careers. A few of them were legends, some were just hanging on in the big leagues. This is the first in a series of articles about the players of the ’84 Tigers.

This article is titled “Last Hurrah as Tigers” because both of these players were in their final stages as Tigers. Though he didn’t know it, Game Five of the 1984 World Series would be the last time Dave Rozema would wear the Old English D. Milt Wilcox would win only one more game for Detroit in 1985 before a painful shoulder injury ended his season. That injury stemmed from his stubborn insistence at giving his all to the team in 1984. Both men, both pitchers, are indelibly connected to the franchise and the state of Michigan. One of them was born in Grand Rapids, the other has made Michigan his home. Both are world champions, and their story is part of the magic of the 1984 season.

The Wild & Crazy Baseball Life of Rosy

In 1976, Detroit Tiger fans were delighted at the pitching and antics of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award that season. The following year, Detroit was blessed with another fine rookie season by a right-handed hurler, this time a Grand Rapids native with a vicious changeup. That youngster, Dave Rozema, would prove to be every bit as much a flake as “The Bird” in many different ways. He also contributed to the Tigers 1984 World Series championship.

As a rookie, Rozema arrived on the scene in style. After quality starts in his first two starts of the season, Rozema twirled a four-hit shutout of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, allowing just four hits. He won three games in May and two more in June, receiving spotty run support as he took some hard-luck losses and no-decisions. He had quality starts in 11 of his first 15 starts that year. In July, Rozema went 4-1, spinning four complete game victories. He was even more effective, winning five games, with his only loss coming in a complete game where his teammates only scored one run for him. He had 15 wins on the season and was among the hottest rookies in the game.

In September, Rozema started two games but was beat around pretty good, losing both. Out of the division race, the Tigers chose to shut down his 21-year old arm for the season. He finished with a 15-7 mark and a 3.09 ERA (ninth in the league). Rozema finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and eighth in the Cy Young vote. It was a promising freshman campaign, and with Fidrych on schedule to return from an injury, the Detroit rotation looked great with the two youngsters for 1978.

But, unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. Fidrych never returned to his stellar rookie form, injuring his knee and then tearing the rotator cuff nearly through on his pitching arm. Rozema was healthy in ’78, posting nearly the same ERA (3.12) in the same number of starts (28), but he managed to only win nine games. It was the most he’d ever win in a season after his rookie season. In 1979, the big right-hander suffered an arm injury and appeared in only 16 games. In 1980 and 1981, now playing under manager Sparky Anderson, Rozema continued to have injury problems and fell out of favor, being relegated to the bullpen.

Back in the rotation in 1982, “Rosy” was involved in his most infamous incident. After starting the year 3-0 with a glittering 1.63 ERA, Rozema seemed poised to give Sparky a full year of pitching excellence. With fellow righties Jack Morris and Dan Petry, an effective Rozema could give the Tigers a talented top three in the rotation.

On May 14, in a game against the Minnesota Twins in Tiger Stadium, Detroit batters Enos Cabell and Chet Lemon were brushed back, and Lemon was hit by a pitch from Twins pitcher Pete Redfern. When a brawl occurred, Rozema came charging from the Tiger dugout intent on delivering a karate kick to a Minnesota player. Unfortunately, Rozema missed and fell to the ground, having twisted his knee. Once the dust was settled, Rozema was carted from the field on a stretcher. His best friend, teammate Kirk Gibson, later won the game on a walk-off extra-innings homer. But the damage was done – Rozema had surgery on the knee the next day and was out for the remainder of the season.

tigers twins brawl 5 - YouTube

Two years later, Rozema was a contributor to the magical ’84 Tigers team, winning seven games in 16 starts. He didn’t appear in the post-season, but he has a ring. Less than a month after the team won the World Series, Rosy declared for free agency. The following month he signed a deal with the Rangers for more than $600,000. He was out of baseball two years later after battling arm problems, he won only three games after leaving the Tigers.

The infamous karate kick wasn’t the only goofy episode of Rozema’s career. The pitcher once playfully shoved a drinking glass in the face of teammate Alan Trammell, a stunt that caused Trammell to have 47 stitches near his eye. Once, Gibson shoved Rozema off his stool in the Tiger clubhouse. Unfortunately, Rozema had a bottle of cough syrup in his back pocket, and after landing on it, had to have stitches in his ass. Rozema remains the butt of jokes for some of the (supposed) airhead moves he made as a young Tiger farmhand, including washing his new car with brillo pads.

On the mound, when he was right, Rozema was a fine big league pitcher. Only once over a full season did he post an ERA as high as 4.00, and he had a career mark of 3.47. In eight years with the Tigers, Rozema was a phenom, a bust, a goofy sidekick, an effective bullpen swingman, and an entertaining teammate.

1984: The Most Wonderful and Most Painful Year of Milt Wilcox’s Career
1979 WDIV Detroit: "We're 4" Promo featuring Aurelio Rodriguez & Milt Wilcox - YouTube

Even though the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 World Series, that season was the most painful of Milt Wilcox’s career. The righthander gladly accepted his place on the wire-to-wire championship club, but his price for that glory was enduring a season of agonizing pain in his shoulder.

A veteran by 1984, the 34-year old Wilcox was determined to pitch a full season for the Tigers. He’d missed starts the previous three years due to shoulder troubles. In 1984 he knew the Tigers were poised to make history and he wanted to be a part of it. He also didn’t want to let his teammates down.

“When the 1983 season ended we knew we were the best team in the league,” Wilcox recalled. “I also felt like I’d let Sparky down by missing starts. In 1981 and 1982 the same thing had happened. I didn’t want that to happen again.”

Wilcox knew his ailing shoulder needed surgery, a procedure that would shelve him for months, possibly for the full year, and perhaps end his career. The only way that he could get through an entire season with the shoulder was to take a radical approach. He determined that he would get cortisone shots to numb the arm and mask the pain. The shots would allow Wilcox to pitch but it would have side effects too. The tissue in his shoulder would get re-injured each time he pitched and cause more damage. Only by getting it numb again would he be able to withstand a full season of wear and tear.

The gamble paid off: Wilcox didn’t miss a start and he performed well as the team’s #3 starter behind ace Jack Morris and Dan Petry. Wilcox pitched just about as well as he had the previous season, but he won six more games, earning a career-best 17 victories as the Tigers seemed to score seven or eight runs each time he toed the rubber. For Wilcox it was a career year, but his shoulder required eight cortisone shots throughout the season, with two coming in back-to-back starts in August.

“I was in pain, but that’s what I had to do,” Wilcox explained. “I knew 1984 would be my last season, most likely.”

The magic of the ’84 season continued for the Tigers and Wilcox in the post-season. The righty started one game each in the playoffs and World Series, winning both. He went eight innings without allowing a run against the Royals in Game Three of the playoffs as Detroit clinched its first pennant in 16 years. He won Game Three of the World Series over the Padres in Tiger Stadium as well.

The following season, Wilcox had the surgery on his shoulder and won just one game for the Tigers. He pitched for Seattle in 1986 but went 0-8. His arm was done. He’d put all of his heart and his shoulder into the ’84 season, and even though he was never the same pitcher again, Wilcox, his teammates, and Detroit fans, are grateful that he did.

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