1984 Tigers Opening-Day Roster, Part II

Here’s part two of the Champs in Context post on the Tigers’ Opening Day Roster.  This post is all about setting the scene for the Tigers’ season.  I think one gets a much better understanding of what that team did that season by looking at how it came together, where the players were in the years leading up to ’84, and how they’d developed leading up to the season.

For the roster, look at part one.  That part profiles the pitchers and catchers, and we’ll go through the rest of the roster now.

Infielders

12. 1B/DH #41 Darrell Evans  6-2 200

B: 5.26.1947 Pasadena, CA

One of my first favorite Tigers was 1B/3B Enos Cabell.  He came to the team in 1982, the second season I followed baseball  as a very short young person with a bad haircut.  I have vague recollections of him flashing his spikes to the crowd—did this really happen?  And he had really bright cleats?  I don’t know.  I really don’t remember why I liked him, but it may have been his name.  He sounds like the guy whose party everyone is going to in a Tarantino movie.  Or just a cop. In a Tarantino movie.

Well, Cabell split time between third and first in ’82 but mostly played at first in ’83.  He hit .311 on the year.  After the season, he and Tigers’ President Jim Campbell and brand new owner Tom Monaghan failed to come to an agreement on a new contract, and he was granted free agency, signing on with the Astros.

The Tigers needed a new first baseman.  They’d used their first-round pick in the ’79 draft to get Rick Leach, a first baseman and outfielder.  Leach was coming along, but not a very good fielder and not destined to be the head guy at first.

So the Tigers threw their hat in the ring to nab free agent Darrell Evans, a veteran who’d been the first captain of the Braves after Hank Aaron, and who’d been with the San Francisco Giants for 8 seasons.

A whole lotta teams went after Evans, and, as one might expect, the New York Yankees offered more money.  However, Sparky called Evans at home with a sales pitch, making him the only manager to do so.[1]  Evans also said he thought the Tigers, coming off a second-place finish with 92 wins, had a chance to go to the World Series, which he’d never done.

It was a $2.25 million contract for three years, a pretty big expenditure, and literally the first free agent the Tigers had signed during the free agency era.  They’d built and built through the farm system, with only a couple of trades, and decided, under a new owner, to push things a bit further.

Evans was known to be a good clubhouse guy, diplomatic but firm, a real leader.  It’s hard to know how much that intangible factor had on the team, but intuitively, it seems his general “glue” quality may have changed the team’s dynamic enough to propel them to that next level.

As the season began, it looked like Evans, who’d hit 32 HR the year before in roomy Candlestick Park, was poised to be the Tigers only real left-handed power hitter, and to have a big year.  People who really paid attention to the game knew he was a wizard with the glove, too.

13) 1B #14 Dave Bergman 6-1 185 lbs

B: 6.6.53 Evanston, IL

If you’ve ever felt overlooked, invisible, given a short shrift, you may have an affinity for the late Dave Bergman (who passed away in 2015).  Bergman was kind of a paradox: by his own assessment, he wasn’t as talented as some big league players, and worked hard to make up for it and keep himself employed.  Yet you could also say that he didn’t get enough AB’s and innings throughout his career, considering his production year after year.

He was overshadowed as early as high school, where one of his teammates was Joe Zdeb, an outfielder drafted by K.C., who actually hit well in 1977 before his career flamed out in ’79.[2]  Bergman said he was blindsided by being drafted at all—by the Cubs in the 16th round in 1971.

Rather than signing with the Cubbies, Bergman went to college and eventually was drafted by the Yankees.  In Spring Training of ’76 (after Bergman had debuted in ’75 and had gotten a few at-bats), Billy Martin, that paragon of diplomacy, charm, and all around goodness, told Bergman he was the worst player he’d ever seen in a major league uniform.

He escaped to Houston and became mostly a 1B with a good glove and the ability to come through with base hits as a pinch hitter.  He then went to the Giants.  Where he would play behind…Darrell Evans.

Bergman saw Evans sign with the Tigers in the winter before the ’84 season and must have thought he’d finally become a starter.  I mean, what, were the Giants going to trade him to Detroit where he’d have to sign a contract saying he’d go wherever Evans went for the rest of his life, cutting the crusts off his toast?

Not exactly.  But when Sparky and Bill Lajoie were trying to wrangle a deal for Willie Hernandez, Bergman’s name came up.  This shows Sparky had lost faith in former Wolverine quarterback Rick Leach—after just signing a big-name first baseman, he was looking for a backup other than the one he already had.

So, the Giants traded Bergman to Philadelphia for a thick-built outfielder named Alejandro (Alex) Rodriguez—remember that name.  The Phillies then bundled Bergie into the Hernandez deal and bought him a one-way ticket to Detroit Metro.

So he’d be able to back up Evans again! Yet, it was his old bud from the Senior Circuit who got Bergman pumped up for the season, telling him he was among a special group of guys and things were going to go well that year.

Leach, the Tigers released.  Just let go.  He signed on with Toronto and got 88 AB for the Jays that season, then stayed on for a few more years and ended his in ’90, playing for with—oh, devilish symmetry–San Francisco.

The Tigers now had two veteran first basemen with great gloves.  They could take a great fielder like Evans out in the late innings and replace him with the possibly greater-fielding Bergman.  Championship depth.

14) 2B #1 Lou Whitaker 5-11 160

B:  5.12.57 Brooklyn, NY

I became a huge Tigers fan in 1981, and quickly began seeing the double play combo of Whitaker and Trammell in sharp relief.  There was something just different about them, something that really resonated with me.

Memory distorts just about everything it gets its wispy little ghost-fingers on, particularly the perceptions of someone as young as I, so this is probably slightly inaccurate.  But I remember radio and TV announcers kind of babying the two fresh-faced kids.  Kind of assuring them they could do it, predicting that they’d get better as hitters and contribute more to a team that needed it.

Whitaker, I probably didn’t know at the time, had been the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year, putting up a tidy .285 batting average. He didn’t sustain that hitting, and barreled all the way down to .233 in 1980.  Trammell managed to hit .258 in two consecutive seasons, ’81 and ’82, so he was, not quite bad, but one of two seeing-eye grounder guys who often hit 8th and 9th in the lineup.  Those were the Whitaker and Trammell I knew, but it seems like everyone talked about them in terms of a future when they’d definitely be better.

In ’83, they were, and Whitaker became one of my favorite players.  He floated around out there, and I can’t remember a single swing in which he contorted himself, grunted, lunged, nearly jumped out of his shoes.  He was an elegant gentleman.  Everyone talked in the 80’s about the short swing, nice and compact.  Whitaker’s was defiantly and beautifully long.  A tennis swing, which is why his home runs were often the most beautiful I’d ever seen.  He hit 13 of them in ’83.  And his batting average was .320.  He scored 94 runs, appeared in the All-Star game, and won the Gold Glove Award.  Sweet Lou.

I don’t know who wondered if he’d backslide in ’84, if his great ’83 was a fluke (though his ’82 offensive numbers were solid), but I have a feeling anyone who did was in the minority.  He entered ’84 as a dangerous leadoff hitter who had the ball on a string in the field.

15) SS #3 Alan Trammell 6-0 165 lbs

B: 2.21.58, Garden Grove, CA

Every franchise needs an Alan Trammell.

On a 1985 broadcast, former Yankee infielder Tony Kubek said that Tram had “About as good a mechanics as you’ll see among shortstops.”

And who could forget, in the delirious celebration after the ’84 series, Sparky Anderson declaring Alan the best ballplayer in the game.  He did win the series MVP, after all.

As mentioned above, Trammell had been a bit lackluster with the lumber in ’81 and ’82, only to come back with a vengeance with .319 1983 year in which he tallied 31 doubles and scored 83 runs.

If your one and two hitters go .320 and .319 respectively, while supplying serious defense in the middle, you’re probably going to win some games.  Thus, the great offensive season Tram and Whitaker had in ’83 was a huge reason for the team’s transition from mediocrity into serious contention.

Going into ’84, he was written in pen at the second spot in lineup after “Sweet Lou.” Tram had arrived.

16) 3B #16 Tom Brookens 5-10 165 lbs

B: 8.10.53, Chambersburg, PA

Well, a lot of franchises need a player like Tom Brookens, too.  He paid the rent, mowed the lawn every Saturday, complimented the missus on her fried chicken.

Brookens was the Tigers first pick of the 1975 January draft (the standard, name brand draft is the one in June).  He was actually drafted at 2B, with Lou Whitaker drafted that June, at third.  The two traded places during the minors, and Brookens debuted with Detroit at that position in July, 1979, right after Sparky’s hire.  In fact, his second or third appearance was in Chicago on the infamous Disco Demolition night.

Brookens was always sharp with the glove but just couldn’t put up big batting averages and had a hard time keeping the third-base job all to himself.  Enos Cabell played that position a bit, and while all that was going on, a young feller named Howard Johnson was trying to break into the game.  And then Marty Castillo.  When Opening Day ’84 rolled around, it was HoJo in the starting lineup in Minneapolis, not Brookens.  That’s about how it went. 

Brookens figured to get his starts during the year, depending on how well Johnson panned out, particularly with the glove.  But Sparky always had the option of moving Evans over to 3rd if he was ever inclined, as long as Bergman’s offense justified his inclusion in the starting lineup as a regular.

17 3B/DH #20 Howard Johnson 5-11 178

B: 11.29.60, Clearwater, FL

photo MLive

Mike Downey, a Detroit sportswriter who later went to the LA Times, referred to Howard Johnson, in 1987, as a “sweet kid with a funny name.”  I wonder if HoJo cringed at the “sweet kid.”[3]

In any case, though the article was about a corking controversy troubling Johnson at the time, Downey discussed the terms of Johnson leaving the Tigers after the ’84 season.  After giving Johnson due props for his offense, Downey writes, “However, no one ever accused him of being a third baseman.”  He continues, “balls clanked off” Johnson’s glove.  That seems to be Sparky’s main reservation with Johnson.

We’ll probably get into the trade for Walt Terrell at the beginning of the ’85 season at some point—though it will give me a headache.  Here, we’re looking at how the ’84 lineup came together.  It’s part of the canon of lore of the ’84 (and surrounding) teams that Sparky has admitted many times he probably should’ve just handed the 3B job to Brookens each year.

Basically, the hard-hitting Johnson was one example of a prospect that came along and gave Sparky some hope that he could elbow that pesky Brookens out of the way for good.  It’s telling that the 1982 Tigers yearbook says the team believed HoJo would be a “basehit machine.”[4]  That was the kind of machine Brookens was not, so you had to give Johnson a shot and see where it went. 

He hit well in limited ’82 action, and was injured for the bulk of ’83.  Going into ’84, he looked like he’d be a big part of the third base carnival, and maybe get in some DHing. Here’s something to stump your friends with: Johnson has the distinction of having the year’s first RBI, a long double off the wall in the Metrodome/Home Depot warehouse (Metrodome damn near spells Home Depot if you scramble the letters) that scored Chet Lemon.

18) C/3B #8 Marty Castillo 6-1 190 lbs

B: 1.16.57 Long Beach, CA

Castillo was a 5th-round pick out of college for the Tigers in ‘77, an also-ran after the gold rush that had panned out along the lines of Morris, Petry, Whitaker, Trammell, and Rozema.

He’d been visiting the big leagues for a game or two since ’81, and had really taken hold in ’83.  Looking like a younger Darrell Evans, the spirited young fella was known to have a high-octane arm of use at the corner, and obviously not a bad thing to have behind the plate. 

The fact that he could catch in addition to playing third is one of the things that helped Castillo make the ’84 roster, perhaps besides the fact that he had a couple of partial seasons under his belt. 

That roster had no less than five guys who could play third base: Brookens, Johnson, Castillo, Evans, and Barbaro Garbey.  And yet, the only man who could credibly back up at short or second was Brookens.

I think, in short, the franchise just didn’t have a minor leaguer middle infielder who was quite ready at the beginning of the season, but the lack of balance always struck me as a bit odd.  In any case, after Dwight Lowry was sent to AAA mid-season, Castillo became the man at the backup Catcher position.

I always liked Marty and have always been really gratified that he lofted a homer in Game 3 of the World Series.  He would not play major league ball after ’85.

Outfielders

19) LF/DH #31 Larry Herndon 6-3 190 lbs

B: 11.3.53, Sunflower, MS

Here are the players who started the most games at each outfield position in the strike-shorted 109-game season of 1981.

LF Steve Kemp                     92

CF Al Cowens                       65

RF Lynn Jones                     38

Gibson chipped in 26 starts in center and 38 in right, with Rick Peters playing a bit of Center.  That starting trio would get, in total, 58 OF starts for the 1982 Tigers, all of them in the person of Lynn Jones.

A key to understanding the ’84 Tigers roster is to understand a somewhat odd thing Sparky did in the years after taking the job.  He traded away many of the most productive offensive players. Ron LeFlore, Jason Thompson, Al Cowens, and Steve Kemp—all gone (though to be clear, Cowens actually came in after Sparky had been hired).

It’s a strange things to do, and one that turned out really well.  LeFlore was known to be a disruptive presence who’d later get into drug trouble while playing for Montreal.  Thompson seemed to get in the doghouse by spraying the ball more than pulling it.  And Cowens and Kemp seemed to have personality conflicts, too. 

In his book on Sparky, longtime friend and PR Director for the Tigers, Dan Ewald said that Sparky traded a young player for mouthing off to a clubhouse boy.  Which of the ones above? We do not know. But there were issues with all of them other than how they treated staff.

I recall—without being able to find a citation—Bob Costas saying in an ’85 broadcast that Kemp had been looking for a way out: if Sparky had problems with Kemp, it was mutual.

He had won an arbitration case, and seemed at odds with team President Jim Campbell, nobody’s wild spender.  In short, at the end of the ’81 season, Kemp came to the end of his road with Sparky and Campbell and the Tigers.  He’d been one of my first favorite baseball players.

He was traded for Chet Lemon and replaced in Left by Larry Herndon.  Big Larry was traded for Pitcher Dan Schatzeder–the guy who the Tigers had gotten for Ron LeFlore– and minor league pitcher Mike Chris.  Cowens’ contract was sold to Seattle.

A Dec. ’81 article in the Free-Press carries the headline “Larry Herndon: he’s a tough guy to figure,” and uses the “there are two of this guy” trope to suggest it’s hard to know how he’ll pan out for Detroit.[5]

Herndon had come off a solid .288 season in ’82 after floundering for years.  Darrell Evans is quoted in the story saying the team voted Herndon the Team MVP and calling him one of the top outfielders in the NL.

The story describes Herndon as reserved and quiet—the standard line on him.  But it also contains a really bizarre anecdote.  Peters says that while struggling in 1977, Larry “jumped the club in Pittsburgh” and literally went missing—from a major league ball club.  Peters writes, “Nobody was able to reach the moody youngster for an explanation and nobody tried to hard.”

Well, that’s an odd thing for no one to ever mention—I’d never heard it ‘til now. He seemed like a fair trade—despite Evans’ misgivings—for Schatzeder, who’d go on to have a solid career, mostly in relief.

The question would be how he’d compare to Cowens, since you’d have to compare Lemon to Kemp.  Well, Herndon jumped off to a good start in ’82 and didn’t look back for two years.  As ex-Giants skip Frank Robinson had predicted, Herndon reacted well to the small dimensions of Tiger Stadium and other AL parks.

He hit .292 with 23 HR in ’82 and .302 with 20 in ’83.  Those are some numbers.  Going into ’84, the Tigers knew they had a rock in left field, with no reason to think his numbers would slide significantly.

20) CF #34 Chet Lemon 6-0 190 lbs

B: 2.12.55 Jackson, MS

Lemon was my favorite Tiger in the mid-80’s.  I played Centerfield for a couple of seasons in Little League and I wanted to be like him.  He’d pop his glove impatiently as a fly ball approached, catch it with super-cool, then lay back and throw a weird sidearm strike back into the infield.

His batting stance, a sort of crouch with his bat hanging back at about a 45-degree angle, became my stance in Little League.

As sampled above, he came over in an outfield purge at the end of ’81.  He replaced Cowens, who wasn’t happy with his number of At-bats, and thus in the doghouse along with Kemp.

Lemon had begun his big league career in ’75 and had established himself as a fixture with the White Sox.  He made the All-Star team in ’77 and ’78.  He hit better than .300 twice during his time in Chicago, and that exact number once.  And he was a great fielder, fast and with good instincts.

So in he came, with decent chances of slightly outpacing the offensive performance of Kemp, for whom he’d been traded.  But he was clearly better on defense, which is why it seems like an odd trade from Chicago’s POV. Maybe they prized Kemp’s status as a lefty. 

In any case, Sparky found a way to move the great centerfielder to right in favor of Gibson in ’82—no lie.  But that didn’t last too long, and it became a classic sight for Tiger fans, Lemon prowling the big outfield at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

His stats were a bit of a disappointment in ’82—and Kemp’s year with Chicago was much better.  But in ‘83 Lemon hit 24 homers with a tidy 2.4 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement).  If he dipped below that year’s .255 average in ’84, he’d probably get saddled with a reputation as a disappointment.  When he’d come over, few would’ve imagined he’d play second fiddle to Herndon, at least when it came to offensive production.  But his defense was stellar, and there was nothing wrong with 24 homers, so bring on the ’84 season.

21) RF #23 Kirk Gibson 6-3 215

B: 5.28.57 Pontiac, MI

Mention the glorious 1984 season, and the first thing people think of is Willie Hernandez’s dominant performance as a closer.  He was an element the team hadn’t had in ’83, and he made a huge difference.

A close second in that regard was Kirk Gibson.  His ’84 performance was astronomically better than that of ’83, and it’s hard to see how the Tigers would’ve won the pennant without it.  To compare his ’84 output to that of Glenn Wilson, the everyday right fielder in ’83, Gibson put up 14 more points in batting average, 16 more home runs, and 26 more RBI.  No real comparison.

After playing Wide Receiver at MSU, Gibson became the Tigers 1st-round in ’78.  Partly because of his football stardom, the big outfielder commanded a lot of attention.  He made the Mar. 24 ’80 cover of Sports Illustrated, touted as the Tigers’ “rip-roarin’ rookie.”

Eli Zaret’s book, ‘84: The Last of the Great Tigers gives a great account of the odyssey of Gibson between then and 1984, and you should check it out.  I choose not to try to condense it here, other than to say that for Gibson, those years were up and down, filled with potential but marred by disappointments.

I remember being in the car with my dad and sister in ’81, listening to Paul Carey’s call on WJR when Gibson drilled one all the way out of Tiger Stadium.  To quote the classic comedy Caddyshack, “Right in the lumber yard.”

When you’re a kid, that really puts a guy in your pantheon—he was larger than life.  I don’t recall wondering where he’d gone to throughout ’82 and ’83, but those were injury-shortened seasons that hurt his performance.

Gibby’s abrasive personality got him in Sparky’s doghouse, and to turn to Downey again, “when you get into (Sparky’s) doghouse, you might as well install an air conditioner.”[6]

The end of the ’83 season was the low point of Gibson’s career.  But instead of blowing up or giving up–or demanding to be traded–Gibby went in the opposite direction.  He decided to work…on his attitude.  He’d been known to be rude to fans and generally temperamental.  He was outspoken.  To try to sand some of these edges down, Kirk attended the Pacific Institute in Seattle, a retreat that teaches positivity.  Gibson took is teaching to heart, saying it really turned him around and made him think his fate was in his own hands.[7]

Noticing the productive new outlook, pitching coach Roger Craig really advocated on Gibson’s behalf to Sparky.  That may have been what prompted Sparky to bring in Hall-of-Famer Al Kaline to help Gibson field his position.  I’d imagine the honor of that attention wasn’t lost on Gibby.

Going into the regular season, with Wilson now a Philadelphia Phillie, the right fielder job was Gibson’s.  His raw ability was undeniable, and players often react well to be given a day-to-day slot.  Therefore, it only made sense to feel a twinge of excitement about the possibilities for Gibson, while being a tad cautious, since he hadn’t yet put together a full season with strong numbers.

22) DH/OF #40 John Grubb

B: 8.4.1948 Richmond, VA

What Johnny Grubb gave the ’84 Tigers was tremendous depth.  He was a veteran who’d been an All-Star in ’74 and had given solid production as a platoon player, pinch hitter, and DH ever since.  He had a tendency to hit in the .270’s. 

At the end of Spring Training ’83, the Tigers made a slightly bold move of letting go of a pretty decent young pitcher, Dave Tobik, in an even-up trade with the Rangers for Grubb.  That year, Grubb played in 57 games, hitting .254.

After the mega-trade that sent Wilson to Philadelphia for Hernandez, Grubb emerged as a possible complement to Gibson in Right field, though they were both lefthanded hitters.  He seemed to function as a nice, level-headed veteran presence who could afford a bonus extra base hit in a DH capacity from time to time.

23) OF #15 Rusty Kuntz

B: 2.4.55, Orange, CA

I love Rusty Kuntz (“Koonts”).  You may love Rusty Kuntz.  Whether you purposely mispronounce his name or not, it’s fun to say.  He’s actually among the first guys on the team I’d thought of over the years when looking back.

But, in a lot of ways, he’s one of the most unlikely members of the team.  Go look at his stats—in his few big league seasons, they weren’t cheering, though he was regarded as a smooth fielder.

In the off-season, Detroit acquired him for reliever Larry Pashnick.  It’s usually hard to pry a young pitcher loose from any team, and the trade seems off-kilter. As for Pashnick, did well for the Twins in ’84, then disappeared.

After Kuntz had hit .190 for the Twins in his short stint with them in ’83, you’d almost think they’d cut him, in which the Tigers could pick him up if for free.  I’m not sure if the trade of Wilson opened up a spot for Rod Allen, Garbey, or Kuntz, but whether he got the last spot or not, Rusty made the squad. 

24) UT #27 Barbaro Garbey 5-10 170 lb

B: 12.4.56, Santiago De Cuba, Cuba

Garbey had played baseball in Cuba and had come to the States in the Mariel boatlift, which, when mentioned by baseball announcers was always called the Freedom Flotilla. In 1980, Fidel Castro said that those who wanted to leave the troubled and poor communist country could do so.  Around the same time, he released hundreds of people from prisons and asylums and sent them to a port at the town of Mariel, where they’d be sent to Florida.

Relations with Carter’s America had improved, but Carter was blindsided by this development.  Small, tightly-packed, not quite safe boats—a flotilla carrying 125,000 Cuban refugees, set sail for Florida.[8] Some Floridians sent their boats to Cuba to help with the journey, receiving some compensation for their efforts.[9]

Of course the influx of refugees wasn’t welcome to everyone, particularly when the news got out that some were ex-cons and former residents of mental hospitals.  But that’s a discussion for a different day.

One of the men was Barbaro Garbey, who landed in Key West, FL, then was routed to a holding center for refugees in Indiantown Gap, PA.  He was playing pepper (a game in which a hitter taps balls to two or three players standing next to each other, a few feet from the hitter, in rapid succession) in rolled up jeans when he was spotted by Tigers scout Orlando Pena.[10]  They signed Garbey, who went out to have a few very good years in the minors. 

Details of his ’84 Spring Training are scant, but the bottom line is he made the team.  His main positions were first and third base, which were fairly crowded.  But he could play the outfield a bit, and also DH.

It is apparent that during his time in the minors, Garbey caught Sparky’s imagination, and Sparky had high hopes for him in one capacity or another.

25) 1B/OF/DH #12 Rod Allen 6-1 185

B: 10.5.1959, Los Angeles, CA

Allen makes another great candidate for most unlikely member of the Tigers ’84 opening day roster.  He’d been in pro ball since ’77, playing for minor league affiliates of various teams.

He debuted in the bigs with Seattle at the end of ’83.  He was released by them and picked up by the Tigers as a free agent.  He was sort of the new John Wockenfuss, a DH capable of playing first (though Sparky said he was “born to be a DH”) and a bit of outfield.  Expectations didn’t seem too high for him, and he would be sent down early in the season.

Bonus Player

OF/DH #32 Ruppert Jones 5-10 170

B: 3.12.55, Dallas, TX

Jones wasn’t on the opening-day roster, but joined the team in early June, playing in his first game on the 6th against Toronto.  He was a huge part of the team, and an amazing find.  A player of his caliber really enhanced the Tigers’ depth.

Jones was a third-round pick by the Royals in ’73.  He then became the first pick of the ’76 expansion draft, a would-be star of the brand new Seattle Mariners.  In two of this three years in the Pacific Northwest, Rupe put up pretty solid numbers.  He was then traded to the Yankees, and from them to the Padres. 

There, he became an All-Star in ’82—his second time. However, he had an off year in ’83 and the was given free agency at the end of ’83.  A good defensive outfielder with a strong arm, a good left-handed batter with some pop, Jones didn’t find anyone eager to sign him.  He went to Spring Training with the Pirates and was cut just before the end of the season.

Here was the former would-be franchise player of the Mariners, unemployed.  He was at home on opening day.  On the 14th, Bill Lajoie of your Detroit Tigers signed the outfielder up and sent him to AAA Evansville to work on swinging at bad pitches.

Well, it worked.  Rupe hit .313 with 9 homers in 48 games.  By anyone’s standards, the 29-year-old was too good for AAA ball and more than deserving of a spot in the bigs.  The Tigers agreed—one almost wonders why it took so long—and sent Rod Allen down and brought up Jones.

Larry Herndon was in a bewildering slump at the time, and he and Jones would begin to platoon, with Jones getting some starts at DH.  Remember, the team had gotten him as a free agent, not having to give anyone up.  A two-time All-Star. 

It was a perfecta for the Tigers.  The rest of the league had said “no thank you” to a veteran player who’d hit north of 20 homers twice (and had found a way to hit a dizzying 34 doubles in the strike-shortened year of ’81), giving a team off to a record-breaking start even more talent.  And the fact that they had a full roster gave him a shot to refine his game in the farm system for a couple of months.  He’d go on to hit .284 and 12 home runs in less than a half-season’s at bats. 

Over the long haul, a team needs clutch performances, which are likely to come from seasoned veterans like Jones.  His acquisition was another example of the organization wielding the Midas Touch in ’84.

Kirk Gibson roars in the World Series | Photo Rusty Kennedy/AP

YOUR 1984 Detroit Tigers

There they are, your 1984 Detroit Tigers.

We know the results, but there may be some surprise in the paths the various guys took to arrive at opening day.

All in all, the Tigers and their fans and well-wishers had plenty of good reason to have high hopes going into the ’84 MLB season.  Coming off a 92-win season, the roster had almost all of the key components from the previous year. 

In a worst-case scenario, Kirk Gibson would forget what he’d learned in Seattle around the time school let out, feud with Anderson, not be able to hit left-handers, etc. and the right field spot wouldn’t get the production it had from Wilson in ’83.

Hernandez, in this scenario, would be decent, maybe with a slump at some point in the year, putting up numbers like 3.89/1.29, 14 saves, a few blown opportunities.

One of Glenn Abbott or Milt Wilcox would tank, getting touched for an ERA closer to 5. Than 4.  Chet Lemon would hit about .245 and generally not be a dynamic force in the lineup.

In a best-case scenario, Gibby would go about .285 or .290 with about 30 dingers, maybe 95 RBI; Hernandez would have a slick ERA under 2.25 with more than 20 saves.  Someone like Johnson, Grubb, or Garbey would have a bustout year.  A pitcher like Abbott, Wilcox, Berenguer or Rozema would win 15 games or more.

Under the worst-case scenario, we’d probably be looking at 86-92 wins.  There was no reason to think Herndon would hit under about .275 with fewer than 80 RBI, and Evans looked poised for a very productive year.  The core of the team would probably perform about as well as it had been, and young guys like Johnson, Berenguer, and Castillo were (one had to figure) maturing and getting acclimated to the majors.

In the best-case scenario, we’d probably win close to 100 games and win the pennant. Again, one would probably factor in a solid offensive year from Herndon and the kind of year Lopez had been having.  With those elements in place plus big years from Gibson and Hernandez, the team should advance on its performance from a year before.

The Tigers were definitely good, with the big question mark centering around if they were ready to become grrrreat.


[1] David Fleitz. Darrell Evans. SABR bio project. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/darrell-evans/

[2] Jerry Nachal. Dave Bergman. SABR bio project https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/dave-bergman/

[3] Mike Downey. “HoJo’s Corking Season is Driving Some Rivals Crazy.” Los Angeles Times. Aug 26, 1987. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-08-26-sp-2583-story.html

[4] Howard Johnson. 1982 Detroit Tigers Yearbook.

[5] Nick Peters. “Larry Herndon: He’s a Tough Guy to Figure.” Detroit Free-Press. Dec. 12 1981.

[6] Downey. (see 3, above)

[7] Eli Zaret. ’84: The Last of the Great Tigers. Crofton Creek, 2004.

[8] 1980. Apr. 20 Fidel Castro Announces Mariel Flotilla, allowing Cubans to emigrate to U.S. History.com https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/castro-announces-mariel-boatlift

[9] Robert McKnight. The Impact of the Mariel Boatlift Still Resonates in Florida after 38 years. Apr, 18, 2018

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article209282994.html

[10] Doug Hill. Barbaro Garbey. SABR Bio Project. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/barbaro-garbey/

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