Tiger Town: The 1984 Detroit Tigers

When you think about the 1984 Detroit Tigers, the first name to come to mind is Alan Trammell, or maybe Kirk Gibson or Jack Morris. But probably not Willie Hernandez.

Yet Hernandez accomplished something in 1984 that only two other individuals in the history of baseball have ever accomplished. Place a bookmark on that thought.  

Hernandez had an incredible year on the mound | Photo courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

The ‘84 Detroit Tigers were not a surprise. A year prior, in 1983, the team finished second in the American League East at 92-70 and all of the major players were returning for 1984. Manager Sparky Anderson, who had led the Cincinnati Reds to two World Series championships in the mid-1970s and was discharged after two ungodly second-place finishes, had begun leading the Tigers on a slow climb to the summit beginning in 1979.

Year six of Anderson’s tenure began with great promise. A Disney movie entitled Tiger Town starring Roy Scheider had been released the previous October with the tagline, “Sometimes, there’s courage in just believing.” In the movie, the manager of the team was played by none other than Anderson himself, the announcer was legend Ernie Harwell, and —spoiler alert—the Tigers won the pennant. The team would go even further in real life.

Photo courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

Of course, Anderson would not have reached the mountaintop again without excellent personnel, and the 1984 Tigers had it a-plenty. At catcher, Lance Parrish had a banner year, clobbering 33 home runs and driving in 98 runs. First base, anchored by Dave Bergman, and third base, battled over by a number of contenders including Tom Brookens, Howard Johnson, and Darrell Evans, were not near as solid as the middle infield of Trammell and “Sweet” Lou Whitaker. Rotating around the outfield was Larry Herndon in left, Chet Lemon in center, and Gibson in right.

Starting pitching was led by the ace, Morris, who had won 84 games over the previous five seasons and would win 19 more during the championship year and throw nine complete games. Morris was supplemented in the rotation with Dan Petry (18-8), Milt Wilcox (17-8), Juan Berenguer (11-10) and Dave Rozema (7-6).

But it was neither Morris nor any of the other starting pitchers who would bring home the most hardware. Rather, it was reliever Hernandez, who appeared in 80 games, won nine of his own, had 32 saves, and posted a 1.92 ERA on his way to winning the Cy Young, the Most Valuable Player award, and a World Series title in the same year—the third player (Sandy Koufax – 1963, Denny McClain – 1968) in the history of Major League Baseball to achieve such a feat.

With all the talent, Detroit charged out to a 35-5 record to start the season and never looked back, going wire-to-wire to capture the AL East with a 104-58 mark (the second-place Toronto Blue Jays ended the season 15 games back with an 89-73 record).

No hitter was more clutch in the 1980s than Kirk Gibson | Photo courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

In the AL Championship Series (ALCS) Detroit faced the Kansas City Royals, who, in addition to the fiery and incomparable George Brett, boasted the young pitching duo of Mark Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen. But the Royals were no match for the Tigers, losing three games to none, in a series that took only four days to complete.

As Detroit waited on an opponent, Chicago and San Diego were in a tight series for the National League pennant. After dropping the first two games at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Padres rallied to win the next three at Jack Murphy Stadium.

The 1984 World Series began on Oct. 9 in San Diego. In Game 1, Morris faced a lineup that included Steve Garvey, Tony Gwynn, Craig Nettles, Kevin McReynolds, and Garry Templeton. The Tigers took Game 1, 3-2, spearheaded by a two-run Herndon home run in the fifth inning.

Behind the stellar arms of starting pitcher Andy Hawkins and reliever Craig Lefferts, San Diego responded with a 5-3 victory in Game 2 to even up the series.

Whitaker hit .278 for the Series and scored six runs | Photo courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

The series then shifted to Detroit for Game 3, and Wilcox took the hill for the Tigers. Wilcox was brilliant, surrendering only one run in six innings. Hernandez was every bit as brilliant in 2 1/3 innings of relief. Detroit won 5-2 and was now up 2-1 with an ace in the hole.

Returning to Tiger Stadium for Game 4, the Tigers featured Morris for the second time in four days. Morris faced the eccentric Eric Show, who posted a 15-9 regular season record with a 3.40 ERA but was burdened with fits of self-deprecating frustration. Morris threw a complete game five-hitter and allowed two runs, while Show gave up four runs and suffered the loss.

Tiger Stadium in Detroit | Photo courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

In the Game 5 clincher, Gibson provided the heroics. In the eighth inning, the Tigers were up 5-4 with two men on base when Gibson dug in against Padres’ reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage. Padres manager Dick Williams visited the mound to discuss strategy, and Gossage, who had characteristically good success against Gibson, lobbied to pitch to him. And Williams consented.

Two pitches later, Gibson deposited a three-run homer into the right-field bleachers, and the city of Detroit exploded.

Fittingly, Hernandez closed out the series and Detroit had its first World Series championship in 16 years. Trammell, who hit .450 with a 9-for-20 performance at the plate, was named MVP.

MVP Trammell celebrates with a little bubbly | Photo courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

Thirty-four years later, Trammell, along with his Tiger teammate Morris, were enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And for a weekend, a small village in New York became Tiger Town. H&A

All photos courtesy Detroit Tigers Archives

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