So now it is over. The 1984 Detroit Tigers have had their reunion at Comerica Park this Monday. As expected, the biggest cheers were reserved for Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Rajai Davis sent everyone home happy with a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the vintage 2014 Tigers.
Has it really been 30 years since that Championship season of Whitaker and Trammell, Sparky and Roger Craig, Gibby and Chet the Jet, Willie and Darrell?
Here are a few of my random thoughts on that great 1984 Tiger team:
— I was born in 1968, so I am old enough to remember the ’84 Tigers. They were the first Detroit pro sports championship in my lifetime, so in that respect, personally, they were a sort of milestone. At the time, the Detroit Red Wings were the Dead Things, the Detroit Pistons hadn’t become the Bad Boys yet, and the Detroit Lions were the Lions. The Tigers victory in the 1984 World Series was a big deal for this city, for this region, and for this state. The economy had tanked. People didn’t have many reasons to feel good. The Tigers were a tonic, a feel-good story for a part of the country that otherwise wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
— A lot of this may be hindsight, but I can remember having a feeling, from spring training onward, that this 1984 team simply was not going to lose. Again, it is easy to look back on a period in history and say “Well, I felt this way,” or “Well, I felt that way,” but this was something substantial, an impression that it was the right time, the right place, that the pieces had been assembled, and that it was there for the taking. The team had come very, very close in 1983, and had improved itself over the offseason, and was primed for success. There was a sense that the Tigers had some unfinished business.
— Darrell Evans is my favorite Tiger from 1984. This guy was the most sought-after free agent in the offseason, and he chose to come to Detroit, because he felt this was a team that was ready for prime time. Evans, who had had a fine career up to that point, had never tasted a championship, and wanted to be a part of one. He was coming off one of his best seasons, with the San Francisco Giants. The irony is that Evans had a very mediocre year, statistically-speaking, in 1984, but no doubt it was personally the most gratifying of his career. He had accomplished what he set out to do.
— As Dan Dickerson pointed out in his speech during the reunion ceremony, the 1984 Tigers had no 20-game winners. But they did have five pitchers win at least 10 games (Quick, can you name them? They were Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox, Juan Berenguer, and Aurelio Lopez). A lights-out bullpen with Lopez and Cy Young award and MVP award winner Willie Hernandez was about as good as it gets. I’ll also add that nobody on the team either drove in or scored 100 runs, and only one player (Trammell) hit over .300. However, seven players hit at least 12 home runs. Detroit led the American League in runs, home runs, and RBIs by having a balanced attack. The 2014 Tigers could learn some lessons there.
— The 35-5 start is historic, something that may never be duplicated. But it was only a start. Manager Sparky Anderson admitted that he could never relax for the rest of the summer, fearing the repercussions should the Tigers blow their huge lead. But it is a manager’s job to be concerned, and in the end Sparky didn’t have to worry. There really wasn’t any drama to the 1984 Tigers season, even though they had to fight through three straight doubleheaders in August. They dominated their league the way few teams ever had before or since.
— Many Tiger fans complain of injustice when it comes to Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, and the Hall of Fame. Most of the people in this town feel that Detroit has been dissed, and that at least one of those three should have a plaque in Cooperstown. It does happen sometime that a World Series-winning team does not have a player enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but not very often (only three actually for teams with players eligible).
Personally, I feel Trammell deserves to be in the Hall, and so does Whitaker. Morris probably does as well; certainly I can’t think of many pitchers I’d rather have going for me in a Game Seven. And let me go on record as saying that I think all three will eventually be enshrined at some point. Look at Alan Trammell’s career WAR (Wins Above Replacement). It is a tad better than shortstop Barry Larkin, who is in the Hall. Trammell’s was 70.4, Larkin’s 70.2. It is also better than his contemporaries such as Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Ryne Sandberg, and Dave Winfield, who are all in the Hall as well. Lou Whitaker’s WAR is higher than all of them at 74.9. And Morris? His career WAR (44.1) is higher than contemporary Hall of Fame pitchers like Rich Gossage (42), and Catfish Hunter (36.6).
Consider this: The 1984 Tigers are the only team in baseball history to have won at least 100 games in the regular season, and also won the World Series, who do not have a player in the Hall of Fame (I am not counting the New York Yankees of 1998 and 2009, who will eventually have Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in the Hall). But rather than filing a grievance with the voting powers, I’m going to take that as a point of pride.
The 1984 Tigers were a team, in the true sense of the word. To be as dominant as they were, and still not have a Hall of Fame player on their roster, doesn’t that speak to their greatness as a team, rather than take away from it?
Maybe the knock on the 1984 Tigers is that they were a one-year wonder. But they were also a product of their times; champions in the 1980s simply did not repeat, for whatever reason. Detroit was one of the premier organizations of the decade.
— I am going to go out of the box here and say that the most important Tiger team in my lifetime was not the 1984 Tigers. It was the 2006 squad.
Think about this. Since 2006, the Detroit Tigers organization has had a very, very nice run of competitive baseball. In many of those seasons, they were among the favorites to win the World Series. 2006 was not long ago, but there are many younger fans walking around today who don’t remember the dark days, pre-Jim Leyland, pre-Dave Dombrowksi. In 2006, the Tigers were three years removed from a 119-loss campaign. The team had not been in a pennant race since the 1988 season. Today, the Tigers have a rabid following. It’s hip to be a Tigers’ fan. People flock to Comerica Park in record numbers, they spend a lot of money on tickets, jerseys, and caps, and they support their Tigers through thick and thin.
This was not always the case.
Heading into the 2006 season, the Detroit Tigers were synonymous with bad baseball, bad management, and bad public relations. It was not cool to be a Detroit baseball fan. The team did not have the surplus of goodwill in the public eye that they enjoy today. They were the Tigers of Randy Smith, of Bo Schembechler, the Team That Had Fired Ernie Harwell. It was an organization that had been floundering for a long, long, long time. Frankly speaking, it sucked being a Tigers fan. They were Team Irrelevant, the brunt of jokes, an ESPN afterthought. When the face of your franchise is Bobby Higginson (who never won anywhere anytime), you’ve got a lot of problems.
Then came 2006. The team started out 5-0. Looking back, it seemed like early on the Tigers pitched shutout after shutout after shutout. It was a magical season that put Detroit baseball back on the map. Do you know that feeling you get when you listen to an old familiar song that you have not heard in, literally, decades? That was the feeling I got with the Tigers in the early summer of 2006. So this is what it is like to enjoy watching baseball games again! A World Series loss didn’t take away from my enjoyment of that glorious season. The 2006 Tigers came out of nowhere, unlike the ’84 Tigers (or the 1968 team). There is something about being an underdog, something about being a laughingstock, and then becoming one of the big boys. 1984 was the last World Series-winning team in Detroit, but in many ways the 2006 Tigers meant as much, if not more, to the broken psyche of the downtrodden baseball fan base in Michigan.
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