There has never been a pitcher in Detroit history who was more suited for the ballpark at The Corner of Michigan and Trumbull than was Walt Terrell.
In two separate stints with Detroit, Terrell pitched like Cy Young in the cozy shadows of Tiger Stadium. On the road he was merely average, but he did well enough to help the club to their last division title.
Terrell was acquired by the Tigers after they won the 1984 World Series title, shoring up their rotation. With Jack Morris and Dan Petry at the front, the Tigers desired a solid starter to plug into the mix, knowing that Milt Wilcox pitched most of the ’84 season in pain. Terrell brought his right-handed slants over to Detroit from the New York Mets. The Tigers sent third baseman Howard Johnson in exchange for Terrell. Johnson had consistently butted heads with manager Sparky Anderson, and with several young infielders coming up (including the infamous Chris Pittaro) through their system, Detroit felt HoJo was expendable.
Terrell immediately took a shining to his new environment. A laid back man off the diamond, Terrell was a former 33rd round selection out of tiny Morehead State, and he almost seemed happy just to be in the big leagues. But, much to Sparky’s delight, Terrell transformed into a feisty competitor when he got on the hill.
“He’s a bulldog,” Sparky chirped, “he has what it takes to win games.”
Terrell won games at Tiger Stadium with alarming regularity. Utilizing his sinker, Terrell coaxed opposing batters into grounding the ball into the high infield grass at The Corner. In his first season as a Tiger, Terrell was 9-2 at home with a 2.86 ERA. He tossed two shutouts at Tiger Stadium. The next two seasons he was equally brilliant at the old ballpark, going 10-3 with two more shutouts in 1986, and 13-2 in 1987 with a 2.47 ERA. That year, Terrell won a career-high 17 games as he helped the Tigers to the best record in baseball and the AL East Division crown.
On the road in ’87, Terrell was very mortal, going 4-8 with a 6.09 ERA. For some reason, Sparky started Terrell just 12 times at home in 1988, using him 17 times on the road. After that season, Terrell was sent to the San Diego Padres for Keith Moreland and Chris Brown.
The Killer at The Corner didn’t stay away long, however. In 1990, the Tigers brought him back as a mid-season free agent. No other team seemed to want the 32-year old righty, but the Tigers couldn’t forget his dominance at the home ballpark. Terrell soon twirled more of his magic in downtown Detroit.
He was 3-2 in six starts in 1990, with a 3.54 ERA, far better than he had shown anywhere else away from the Tigers. The next season he defied the odds, arising from the junk heap to win nine games at Tiger Stadium, even though he had a better ERA on the road for the first time with the club. His career wrapped up in 1992, when he began the season in Sparky’s rotation but after being ineffective, was sent to the bullpen. He still managed three quality starts out of six in Tiger Stadium.
Terrell posted a rather pedestrian 59-100 record in games he pitched away from Tiger Stadium, with a 4.50 ERA. He was a #3 or #4 starter who could eat up innings. But when he climbed the hill at Tiger Stadium, he was a force to be reckoned with. He was 52-24 in 91 starts with a 3.40 ERA, 24 complete games, and six shutouts at the old ballpark. Predictably, his success at home gained him a large fan following among Tiger faithful.
Terrell was never a superstar, nor even an All-Star, but at Tiger Stadium he was a legend.
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