On the verge of the 1984 season, Detroit Tigers General Manager Bill Lajoie and Manager Sparky Anderson knew the Tigers had a legitimate shot at winning a World Series. But they also knew a left-handed closer and a defensive first baseman could make the difference between finishing second or first. Back then, teams didn’t have the luxury of making the playoffs without winning their division.
Many Tigers fans thought Lajoie and Anderson were crazy when they traded fan-favorite John Wockenfuss and hot prospect Glenn Wilson for two unknown entities named Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman. It didn’t take long for both new players to pay massive dividends.
The 1984 Tigers were 98-0 when they had a lead going into the 9th inning. Hernandez was the reason. Blessed with a wicked screwball, Hernandez amassed an impressive 32 saves and had a 1.92 ERA. He went on to win the American League MVP and Cy Young awards.
Bergman was instrumental in preserving Jack Morris’s first-week no hitter and later became a human highlight film as he hit two game-winning 9th inning home runs against the pesky second place Toronto Blue Jays (one at home and one on the road). Bergman was a gem in the clubhouse and helped a still young team mature in short order.
The 1984 Tigers proved that every player counts. Rusty Kuntz, John Grubb, Marty Castillo and many more non-starters made the difference throughout the course of a grueling, demanding season.
No doubt, the 2008 Detroit Tigers are loaded with talent. Their entire lineup could represent the American League in the All-Star Game and no one would question it. However, there is a good chance our 2008 Boys of Summer will return from Florida without having strengthened their bullpen. This may prove to be a situation even an All-Star lineup cannot overcome.
Losing games 16-15 won’t afford the Tigers a shot at a title. It’s not hard to imagine the Tigers handing Todd Jones 8-run leads in the late innings that he is unable to hold. It would be better to win games 9-7 and have a closer who can hold up his part of the bargain.
Dombrowski should consider borrowing a move from Lajoie’s playbook by trading a top-of-the-line offensive starter and possibly a young prospect to fill the remaining holes. For many Tigers fans, such a move would seem crazy. Just like it did in 1984.