Milt Wilcox Pitched Through Pain to Help Tigers Win 1984 Title

Even though the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 World Series, that season was the most painful of Milt Wilcox’s career. The right-hander 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 big 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 recalls. “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 7 or 8 runs each time he toed the rubber. For Wilcox it was a career year. He’d won between 11 and 13 games every year since joining the Tiger rotation in 1978. 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 ALCS 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.