An old baseball saying is that good pitching will stop good hitting. Over the first two months of the 1993 season the Detroit Tigers made it look like no one in the league had good pitching. The ’93 team is largely forgotten today, but that season they were as powerful a lineup as the Tigers have ever had, and for several weeks they lit up the league, scoring runs at an alarming and eye-popping rate.
They were the oldest team in the league and their leader was the dean of all managers. The white-haired Sparky Anderson was in his 25th season in the majors and his 16th in Detroit. The club wasn’t expected to do much after a sixth place finish the previous season. The pitching staff was riddled with holes, especially the bullpen. But the Tigers were in first place as late as June 25, and early in the year they looked like they may set a record for run scoring.
At the heart of the team were three stars left over from the glory days of the 1980s: 36-year old second baseman Lou Whitaker, 36-year old outfielder Kirk Gibson, and 35-year old shortstop Alan Trammell. There was also behemoth Cecil Fielder at first base, young star shortstop Travis Fryman, and catcher Chad Kreuter.
“We were a team that got on base and could score in lots of ways,” said center fielder Milt Cuyler, who stoled 13 bases in part-time duty. “But mostly, the big guys could smack the ball.”
A former two-time home run champion, Fielder was one of those big guys. In ’93 he hit 30 homers and continued his penchant for driving in runs with 113 RBI. The Tigers ended up second in the league in homers with 178, with eight players hitting at least 10. Fryman socked 22, Kreuter 15, Gibson 13, and Trammell 12.
Three players exemplified the offense-minded ’93 Tigers, two of them switch-hitters: Tony Phillips and Mickey Tettleton. Phillips could play just about anywhere in the field and even DH, but he mostly ended up in the outfield. A patient leadoff man, “Tony the Tiger” set the table for the Tiger run machine. He got on base via walk or hit more than 300 times and scored 113 runs while hitting for a .313 average.
Tettleton, known among his teammates as “Fruit Loop” because of his love affair with the cereal, was equally versatile. He caught, played first, and also saw duty in the outfield and at DH when needed. With power from both sides of the plate, Tettleton did some serious damage that year: 32 homers, 110 RBI, and 109 walks. The base on balls was an integral weapon for Sparky’s club in 1993. That season the Tigers drew 765 free passes, 110 more than the next closest total in the AL. The Tigers also swung and missed a lot, leading the league with more than 1,122 strikeouts.
The other player was Rob Deer, an all-or-nothing home run hitter who frequently swung so hard that he popped buttons on his uniform jersey. Deer got off to a red-hot start, but for the season he hit settled in with 14 homers and an anemic batting mark of .217. Amazingly, Deer struck out 120 times in just 90 games.
With a lineup built around patience and swing-from-the-heels power, the Tigers got off to an historic start in tallying runs. In their home opener the team pummeled the Athletics by the score of 20-4. In that game Fryman had five RBI, Tettleton plated four, and Fielder went 4-for-4 as the Tigers pounded out 18 hits and drew 12 walks. Four days later against the Mariners, the Tigers won 20-3, this time behind 20 hits and 10 more free passes. In that game Fryman and Kreuter each had four hits, Fryman scoring five times. The next day the team outslugged the M’s 8-7. But that was just the beginning. When the club went on the road to face the Twins for a three-game series in late April, Detroit pounded their way to victories by the scores of 12-4, 17-1, and 16-5. In the series Detroit banged out 46 hits and drew 22 walks while clubbing 11 homers and 23 extra-base hits.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Minnesota catcher Brian Harper said. “[They] just teed off on everything, [they] can score a lot of runs and win a lot of games with their lineup. It’s scary.”
In first place by April 23, the team stayed there for two months. Over the first six weeks of the season the vaunted Tiger offense was averaging 8.5 runs per game. They were on pace to score more than 1,300 runs!
But even with their success, Sparky was wary. “The key is pitching. You won’t win much with firepower… If we don’t get pitching, it doesn’t matter if we run nine Mickey Mantles up there.”
Sure enough, in June the team went on a 10-game losing skid during which they were outscored 80-31. The Tigers never really recovered from the losing streak, and finished in third place in their division. They did however lead the league in runs scored with 899, also leading in walks, on-base percentage, and slugging.
“That was a team that scared the rest of the league early on because we could hit,” Sparky said. But ultimately the lack of pitching did the ’93 team in.