Who was better, the ’68 or ’84 Tigers? Stars from both teams will debate at December 4th fundraiser

Al Kaline and Kirk Gibson played right field for the '68 and '84 World Series champions, respectively.

Al Kaline and Kirk Gibson played right field for the ’68 and ’84 World Series champions, respectively.

For nearly 30 years Detroit baseball fans have debated the following question.

Which World Championship team was better, the ’68 or ’84 Detroit Tigers?

That discussion will continue at what is billed as the “Show-Down In Mo-Town”, when several stars from both squads will participate in a special evening of debate and storytelling on December 4th at 6 PM at the MGM Grand Hotel in Detroit located at 1777 Third St.

The event will honor and benefit active duty soldiers, injured heroes, and the U.S. Military All-Star Baseball Team.

Those scheduled to participate from the ’68 Tigers include Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Denny McLain, Jon Warden, and Tom Matchick. The ’84 squad will be represented by Lance Parrish, Darrell Evans, Dan Petry, and Dave Rozema. Eli Zaret will emcee the debate and storytelling. The event will include a cash bar at 6 PM, followed by a buffet dinner and auction. Tickets are available to 350 people at $150 per person and include one autograph per Tiger player subject to availability. To obtain tickets via check, PayPal, credit card, or cash call 810-588-9106.

It isn’t easy to compare two teams separated by 16 seasons that played in different eras.

For instance, the ’84 squad competed after league expansion, institution of the playoff season and rule changes that included the designated hitter, a lower mound, and smaller strike zone that favored hitters.

Both teams produced pitchers who won the Cy Young and MVP awards in their respective championship season. Starter Denny McLain finished 31-6 and a 1.96 in ’68 while closer Willie Hernandez finished with a 1.92 ERA and 32 saves in 33 opportunities while appearing in 80 games during the ’84 campaign.

The teams finished with nearly identical records, (’68 went 103-59, ’84 was a franchise-record 104-58) but how they obtained those marks and won the World Series could not have been more different.

Sparky Anderson’s ’84 team, led by Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Darrell Evans, Parrish, and Kirk Gibson, were wire-to-wire champions. The season included an unbelievable 35-5 start and a Morris no-hitter before sweeping the Kansas City Royals in the ACLS prior to overpowering the San Diego Padres in just five games to win the world championship.

In contrast, in 1968 manager Mayo Smith’s team, led by McLain, Horton, Jim Northrup, Mickey Stanley, Dick McAuliffe, Bill Freehan, and Kaline, produced one of the most exciting seasons in history as the club featured a different hero nearly every game. The team won 40 games after being behind from the 7th inning forward and won an unheard of 30 games in their last at bat in dramatic fashion. To put an exclamation point on their spectacular come-from-behind season, the Tigers captured the World Series in seven games after being down 3 games to 1, thanks largely to the pitching heroics of World Series MVP Mickey Lolich.

I am not a sabermetrics freak, so I can’t tell you how many times each player adjusted his cup at home plate and who was better at it, but for my money I have to give the edge to the ’68 Tigers as the better team. In the end, it really doesn’t matter since both teams were a thrill to watch and they gave this town world championships.

I will certainly concede that the middle infield of the ’84 Tigers with Whitaker and Trammell was better than Oyler and McAuliffe, and that the ’84 relievers of Aurelio Lopez and Hernandez tops by far the ’68 relief corps.

But that is about it.

Overall Bill Freehan was a better catcher than Lance Parrish (you can look it up), but in those championship seasons I will put them even.

I have to pick Norm Cash over Dave Bergman at first base, Don Wert over Howard Johnson/Marty Castillo at third, and Horton, Stanley, Northrup/Kaline, over Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon, and Kirk Gibson in the outfield. With McLain’s unbelievable season and Lolich’s World Series heroics, I have to take the ’68 starters of McLain, Lolich, Earl Wilson, and Joe Sparma over Morris, Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox, and Rozema.

Now who has the better stories?

Maybe we will find out on December 4th.

15 replies on “Who was better, the ’68 or ’84 Tigers? Stars from both teams will debate at December 4th fundraiser

  • james Jackson

    Let’s not forget ‘Gates Brown’. Although not a starter, his pinch hitting was crucial and batting average were outstanding for the Tigers success in 1968. “You couldn’t ask for a better ‘clutch’ hitter.”

  • Doc Fletcher

    The answer would be 1935, but once Elden Auker left us, there’s no one left to share their stories. Hammerin’ Hank, Goose, Mechanical Man, Schoolboy, Billy, Gerald Gee, Black Mike, Elden, Tommy Bridges, General Crowder, Jo Jo, Pete Fox, Owens… nobody did it better, but I love 1887, 1935, 1945, 1968, 1984 – and 2014? Go Get ‘Em Tigers!

  • Mike Ransom

    ’68 was the better team. True it was a different era but with the clutch play tehy had was awesome. That club had been together for a while and meshed that year. Gates and Willie were both clutch hitters and Lolich was a warrior winning three games and especially game 7 when he dueled Bob Gibson on 2 days rest.

  • larry

    James is right Gates had been swinging the lumber great in ’68 . The lost art of pinch hitting .!! My vote would be the ’68 team however they both were good teams . IIn the end both teams brough home the bacon . go tigers 2014 !!

  • Rick

    Terrific article Bill. My vote will always be the 68 team ALWAYS! As an 11 year old kid there was nothing more important then the Tiger’s to me and that team was the greatest Tiger team of all-time. I would put them up against any team. And remember the 68 team beat the great Bob Gibson in game 7 on the road! The 84 team beat a San Diego team that honestly wasn’t that good. Add in the fact the 84 team had a lot of player’s have career year’s in which they never before or after matched and the 68 team other then McLain all had typical year’s. The 68 team based on starting pitching, overall line-up and defense would have waxed the floor with the 84 team. I agree the only advantage would be the middle infield. I call the bullpen a draw because of Hiller and Darryl Patterson. Does anyone (I bet they do) Patterson striking out F. Robinson, B. Powell and B. Robinson with the bases loaded and none out? Hernandez never did that! 68 FOREVER!!!

  • John B

    They were both great teams, period. I’d have to give the nod to the 68 team,though. Why? They were just my favorite. All those guys were my heroes. A magical year, and to beat a damn good Cardinal team in the World Series, with Gibson… Being a SoCal lad (transplanted from Michigan), I got to see them sweep the Angels in Anaheim that year. They were not to be denied.

  • LUBS

    Great article, Bill. After you wrote it John Grubb was also added to the list of ’84 Tigers who will be there.

    I too favor the ’68 Tigers; I don’t know if they were better, but you could not beat the excitement of all those come from behind wins.

    As Bill pointed out, we are down 3 – 1 in the World Series, with only one game left in Detroit and two (if needed) in St. Louis. Plus we had to face Gibson again in Game 7, if it went that far. The odds at the time seemed very high.

    Really looking forward to the event on Wed. It may be our only chance to hear these stories and debates. Tickets are still available by calling the phone # above.

  • Charley Clapp

    Great debate. I would differ on a couple of points-I would take Brookens-Johnson-Castillo over Don Wert. Its a tough call at catcher. Freehan was a fabulous catcher but so was Lance. Bill may have handled a pitching staff a touch better but Lance had the superior arm. Lance had better power than Bill. The outfield is closer than is debated. Stanley and Lemon were great Centerfielders but Mickey played SS in the series. Northrup was just an adequate centerfielder. Al Kaline was great but Gibson had a great year in 1984. WIllie was a fine outfielder for the 68 Tiges but you also have to factor in Rupert “Rooftop” Jones in the Outfield since he platooned with Herndon. II would give 1b to Cash but don’t forget we also had Evans playing first. The starters are interesting. The Big 3 of McLain, Lolich, and WIlson were strong, but almost as strong was Morris, Petry, and MIlt Wilcox who won 17 games that year.

  • Ken

    I give the ’68 Tigers the advantage since there was no DH then. McLain, Lolich, and Wilson were just better pitchers too.

  • BWyatt

    I played the two teams against each other in a best of 7 series with APBA Baseball simulation game. The 1984 team won in 7 games, on a Chet Lemon sac fly in the bottom of the 9th.

  • Brian Beebe

    1968 – Tiger fans had waited so long for a championship. They should have won in 1966 but that was the season they lost managers. 1967 was the season they lost by 1 game. So 1968 was like a dynasty finally winning a championship.

  • Eric Weber

    Bill, it was such a pleasure to meet you at the Showdown in Motown Event last night at the MGM Grand. You have alot of class and respect for your fans.

  • Bill Dow

    Thanks so very much Eric for your very kind comment. It was a pleasure meeting you and O hope you enjoyed meeting those World Champions! Hopefully Detroit will have a new set of World Champions next Fall!

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