Baseball at the highest level of competition isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be tough, grueling, even volatile.
No one personified the volatility and excitement of baseball quite like Bill Madlock. The player known as “Mad Dog” played briefly for Detroit in 1987, but his four months as a Tiger were action-packed.
Madlock brought an impressive resume with him to Detroit on June 4, 1987, when he was signed as an unrestricted free agent after being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers. A career .300 hitter with four batting titles to his credit (two with the Chicago Cubs and a pair with the Pittsburgh Pirates), Madlock was the first player to win multiple crowns with two teams. He was one of the best right-handed hitters of the 1970s and 1980s, and his four batting titles as a third basemen were a record until later eclipsed by Wade Boggs.
But Madlock was also famous for his temper. As a minor leaguer, Madlock had been suspended for an entire season after a brawl instigated by a brushback pitch. One scout said, “It was the best fight I’ve seen in my many years in baseball.” The league later reduced Madlock’s punishment to 14 days. In 1980, in his most notorious incident in the majors, Madlock shoved his glove in the face of umpire Gerry Crawford, earning 15 days suspension and a $5,000 fine. Once, with the Cubs, Madlock was tossed from a game by two umpires! He was involved in fights or arguments with umpires, managers, teammates, opponents, even non-roster invitees pitching him batting practice. There seemed to be no one that “Mad Dog” wouldn’t bark at.
At the tail end of his career in the mid-80s, Madlock was dealt to the Dodgers in 1985 as pennant race insurance. He responded brilliantly: hitting .360 in 34 games down the stretch. His performance was crucial in Tommy Lasorda’s team winning the division title. By 1987, however, the 36-year old infielder was struggling with a .180 average when the dodgers let him loose.
Knowing Sparky Anderson’s fondness for veterans who can hit tha bell, Tigers General Manager Bill Lajoie snatched Madlock for a pittance, brining him back to the American League for the first time since his rookie season.
In his first game with the Tigers, Madlock banged out three hits, including a two-run homer off lefty Bruce Hurst of the Red Sox. He would collect five more hits in the four-game series with Boston, and then collect four hits against Milwaukee on June 9. Sparky was in love, and he used Madlock as his DH against lefties (and many righties) and at first base when needed.
But Madlock cooled off, and by June 24 he was in an 0-for-21 slump. After sitting for two games, he was in the lineup to face the Baltimore Orioles on June 28 in the second game of a doubleheader at Tiger Stadium. He hit solo homers in the fifth and eighth innings, but the Tigers still trailed by three entering the bottom of the ninth. Pinch-hitter Johnny Grubb led off the frame with a homer to right. Matt Nokes followed with another homer to almost the exact same spot. The Tigers now trailed by a single run. Madlock followed and sent a liner to left field for the third straight Tiger homer of the inning to send the crowd into a frenzy. It was Madlock’s third homer of the game and tit tied the contest. The Tigers won in the 11th on an RBI single by Alan Trammell.
For the remainder of the ’87 season, Madlock continued to show some of the most potent power of his career. He would belt 14 homers and 17 doubles in 87 games for Detroit. His highest home run total for an entire season had been 19. Twice in September he delivered game-winning homers against the Orioles. The Tigers, of course, won the division on the last weekend of the season when they swept the Toronto Blue Jays at the Corner. Madlock had driven in 50 runs in just about half a season of playing time for the Tigers. He appeared in one game in the Tigers loss to the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs. He never played another big league game.
But his four months as a Tiger were eventful and critical to the team’s success.