Champs in Context: 1984 Detroit Tigers Opening Day Roster
This is the first in what will be a series of stories filed under “Champs in Context.” This series is meant to establish a few things about the Tigers before just jumping in to the amazing 35-5 start, Jack Morris’ no-hitter, all of that.
I want to lay a context for the team that will help fully explain their stomping of the American League in the Year of Our Lord 1984. Or was it the year of Orwell? This will include a look at where they ended the ’83 season and how they shaped up against the rest of the majors. But for today, I want to look at their Opening Day Roster.
How Did They GET Here?
First, I’ll give you the handy reference of the roster, and then we’ll go through each player one by one. With each player, I’ll focus on his path both to the team with the Old English D on their jerseys and to the year 1984 itself, focusing on the role he’d assume when the season began. This will paint a picture of where the team stood before the season’s first pitch.
Note, guys like Carl Willis, Doug Baker, and Sid Monge won’t be included here, since they joined the team at various points in the season. I’ll make the Ruppert Exception for Ruppert Jones, who joined the team a month into the season, since he was a big part of the team. He won’t be on the roster, but in the profiles, below.
1984 Opening-Day Roster
No Po B T Name
47 SP – R Jack Morris
46 SP – R Dan Petry
39 SP – R Milt Wilcox
24 SP – R Glenn Abbott
37 RP/SP – R Juan Berenguer
19 RP/SP – R Dave Rozema
38 RP – R Aurelio Lopez
40 RP – R Doug Bair
21 RP – L Willie Hernandez
13 C R R Lance Parrish
25 C R R Dwight Lowry
41 1B L R Darrell Evans
14 1B L L Dave Bergman
1 2B L R Lou Whitaker
3 SS R R Alan Trammell
16 3B R R Tom Brookens
20 3B/DH B R Howard Johnson
8 C/3B R R Marty Castillo
31 LF/DH R R Larry Herndon
34 CF R R Chet Lemon
23 RF L L Kirk Gibson
40 DH/OF L L John Grubb
15 CF/RF R R Rusty Kuntz
27 UT/DH R R Barbaro Garbey
12 1B/DH/RF R R Rod Allen
1) SP 47 Jack Morris 6-3 195 lbs
B: 5.16.1955, St. Paul, MN
Jack Morris. The man with a stache the color of a lovely Summer Ale. The bulldog. The competitor. The man who inspired the “F Word” from the otherwise chaste mouth of gentle-giant first baseman Darrell Evans. Let’s look at how he went from the Twin Cities to Motown.
In 1975, the Tigers did not have great pitching. They did, however, have awful pitching. Their starters were dead last in wins in the American League, and 11th of 12 in E.R.A. The team went 57-102 while letting up 786 runs, 4.9 per game, which, again was 11th in the A.L.
The best performance from the staff came from 34-year-old star Mickey Lolich, whom the team traded at season’s end, along with rookie outfielder Billy Baldwin, to the New York Mets for lefty reliever Bill Paxton and DH/1B Rusty Staub.
That left the team with a youth movement when it came to starting pitching, with young hopefuls like Vern Ruhle, Ray Bare, and Ed Glynn. They would then discover a youngster named Mark Fidrych. But however meteoric was “The Bird”’s rise, he was just one guy. The Detroit Tigers needed more pitching.
General Manager Bill Lajoie went to the draft. The team’s first pick of the ’76 draft (2nd overall) was lefthanded starter Pat Underwood. Their fourth was Dan Petry. And they took another pitcher in the fifth round, Jack Morris. He came two picks after a speedster from Oakland Tech, Rickey Henderson.
Lajoie and team owner Jim Fetzer weren’t messing around—rather than trying to develop Morris slowly, they sent him to AA Montgomery, where the Rebels’ manager was Les Moss, who’d briefly manage the Tigers before getting the boot in ’79 when one Sparky Anderson became available.
While Morris put up an E.R.A. of just 6.25 in 9 starts, the team pushed him up right up through the system, promoting him to AAA in ’77, and bringing him up to the big club after the All-Star break. The 22-year-old got his first win on Aug. 10 against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The crafty Northpaw bounced between the big club and the minors for two seasons, being coached once again by Moss, and also Jim Leyland, whom Morris would thank for his mentoring upon his Hall of Fame Induction in 2018.
Jack Morris would finally crack the Tigers’ starting rotation in 1979, under Les Moss. Mark Fidrych injured his arm in 1978, and for that and the next 3 seasons, would try and try to pitch but constantly re-injure his arm, leaving a large gap in the rotation.
Morris helped fill it with a great 1979 performance, studded by a 17-7 mark. From there on, he was an ace, starting the All-Star game for the A.L. in ’81.
A rising star, Morris added one more element to his game: the forkball (a/k/a the “split finger pitch.”) While pitching coach Roger Craig is usually associated with the pitch, Morris gives a personal account of learning it in the Tigers’ bullpen from Milt Wilcox in ’82. Wilcox impressed Morris by telling him that future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter threw the pitch.
Morris used his bottom-drops-out strikeout pitch to up his game and become one of the most-feared starters in the league. As 1984 rolled around, he was coming off a 20-win season, and was cemented, not only as the team’s number one starter, but one of the very best starters in the league. They had that crucial spot filled.
2) SP #46 Dan Petry 6-4 185
B: 11.13.1958, Palo Alto, CA
In 1968, one viewer of the World Series between the Tigers and the Cardinals was Dan Petry. His family had moved from his birthplace to Anaheim, he’d become a baseball fan, and wouldn’t miss this series. In fact, he learned the pitching styles and batting stances of the players.
In high school, Petry caught the eye of Tigers scout Dick Wiencek, who also scouted Morris, along with Alan Trammell. The Tigers drafted Petry—one round before Morris—in ’76.
Petry’s Major League debut was July 8, 1979, about a month after the team had brought in Sparky. Having had more time in the farm system than Morris, Petry actually got into the Tigers’ starting lineup more quickly in his career than Jack had in his. By 1980, the two were both fulltime starters.
While the forkball was the thing for Morris, the slider was Petry’s milestone, the pitch that put him over the top. A slider both breaks and curves—as if sliding off a table—and it was Petry’s savior.
He entered 1983 as the Tigers’ number 2 starter, won 19 games, and held that post going into 1984. The ’84 Tigers opening day roster had two solid starters. They needed a third, though.
3) SP 39 Milt Wilcox 6-2 185
B: 4.20.1950, Honolulu, HI
Milt Wilcox made pitching a performance art. His glove goes up. It falls to the waist. Up a couple inches and back down. He goes into his wind-up, delivers, then, in some cases, does a little skip-rope, one leg at a time. Other times, he squares up, feet wide, forearms level with the ground. He seems nervous and a bit angry.
After being drafted in the second round by the Reds in ’68 (magic year, right?), he debuted with them in ’70. He then went to the Indians and then Cubs and amassed a career record over six seasons a few games under .500.
Well, it can be hard to always win a roster spot that way, and at the beginning of the ’76 season, the Cubs sent Milt to AAA Wichita. It has to be hard to be a mid-career player sent down (he was 26), and Wilcox took it badly, considering quitting the game.
That is where fate slipped in. Recall, the Tigers were hurting for pitching at this time, rushing Morris up through the farm system, getting erratic play from the likes of Ray Bare and Ed Glynn, and open to new avenues. They purchased Wilcox’s contract and sent him to AAA Evansville for 1977. Racking up a 2.44 E.R.A. there earned him a spot with the big club halfway through the year. He went 6-2 with a 3.44 record the rest of the season, and stayed on with the club.
Whereas the advent of Sparky Anderson—who’d managed Wilcox in Cincinnati—wasn’t pleasing to Wilcox, he stayed on and earned a spot as a full-time starter. He put up a winning record every year from ’78-’84, though he didn’t win more than 13 games until ’84. His ERA was often around 4, and he suffered on-and-off shoulder problems.
However, while the Pat Underwoods and Dave Tobiks came and went, Wilcox entered ’84 still standing, and virtually guaranteed the third slot in the rotation. Coming off an ’83 with an 11-10 record, a serviceable 3.97 ERA. and a WHIP (though the stat wasn’t kept at the time) of 1.28, Wilcox didn’t enter ’84 necessarily guaranteeing Tigers fans a great year. The team’s bid for success would surely be helped by a big year by their veteran right-hander.
4) SP #24 Glenn Abbott 6-6 200 lb
B: 2.16.51, Little Rock, AR
Glenn Abbott? Abbot comma Glenn? What?
We’re looking at the Tigers Opening Day roster here. The scene that was set as they broke from Spring Training. Glenn Abbott was on the roster. Oh yes. He was.
Abbott’s career stat line, beginning with the glorious 1973 Oakland A’s, reads a lot like that of Milt Wilcox. Quite a few years around .500, so-so ERA’s, starts in about 85% of his appearances, about 25 a year.
In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Abbott put up a very good 1.19 WHIP with a 3.94 ERA, which, with the dismal Seattle Mariners, was good for a W-L record of 4-9.
That’s when things really turned for the big right-hander. He developed floating bone chips in his elbow at the start of the ’82 season. Then it was viral meningitis, which harmed his vision and hearing, and caused him to drop 30 pounds.
He returned to the Mariners in ’83. He’d started 14 games with mixed results by August, when the Tigers swooped in and purchased his contract. Detroit was 69-54, 1.5 games behind the Orioles. Their rotation was in flux, with Wilcox injured and Rozema in the bullpen. Young Juan Berenguer was starting of late, and a rookie named Larry Pashnick got a handful of turns as well. To help fill in for the ailing Wilcox, Doug Bair started on the 23rd, the night of the purchase of Abbott, according to box scores accessed at baseball-reference.com.
Abbott got his first start as a Tiger on the 27th, and while he lost (to future Tiger Doyle Alexander, then of the Blue Jays), he would pitch well down the stretch, going 1.93/1.08 (ERA/WHIP) with a 2-1 record.
The Tigers had taken a chance on a veteran as they had with Wilcox several years earlier, and it seemed to pay off. Would he be a solid starter in ’84, perhaps surpassing Wilcox in the rotation? Did he has 15 or 16 wins in him? Time would tell.
5) SP/RP #37 Juan Berenguer 5-11 186 lb.
B: 11.30.54, Aguadulce, Panama
Juan Berenguer grew up in a city in Panama whose named translates to English as Sweetwater. He was spotted for his power pitching in a local league by a Mets scout and signed straightaway. He debuted with them in ’78 and managed to put up a career 5-31 record through 1981. He was with the Blue Jays at the time, and they cut him near the end of ‘82’s Spring Training. The Tigers signed him a week later.
At that time, Morris was becoming a star, Petry was showing potential, and Wilcox was coming off probably his best season ever. Rozema had done just fine in ’81, but probably wasn’t a lock to start a full and effective season in ’82. Probably what interested Detroit in a swingman such as Berenguer was their difficulty (which almost all teams had) filling a fifth spot, and that was assuming Rozema would be #4, which wasn’t a sure bet.
Their prized #1 pick from ’76, Pat Underwood, was ping-ponging between the bigs and AAA. And Lefty Dan Schatzeder had just been traded to San Francisco for lanky outfielder Larry Herndon.
Berenguer spent most of ’82 in the minors, getting a few starts at the end of the year. This was the year in which he developed a split-finger pitch, rounding out his power game a bit. With this new arrow in his quiver, Juan put up a fine 1983 season, starting 19 games and appearing 18 times in relief.
With Berenguer showing incredible potential, the fourth spot in the rotation seemed a toss-up between him and Glenn Abbott. The one who didn’t win might play a sometimes-in-sometimes-out role in the fifth spot, also appearing in relief. That formula would relegate Rozema to the bullpen completely. Thus, the Tigers started the year with two solid starters, Morris and Petry, a fairly reliable Milt Wilcox seeming to hold down the third spot, and Berenguer, Abbott, and Rozema all being minor question marks with good upsides and marked downsides that had all been displayed in recent years. It looked, at the time, that one of these guys would be able to pull through for the fourth spot, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think the other would perform well enough for 18-22 starts in the fifth.
6) RP/SP#19 Dave Rozema 6-4 185 lbs
B: 8.5.1956, Grand Rapids, MI
The brown-haired Rozema came into 1984 as a bit of an enigma. Heck, he came into ’83 that way. And probably ’82.
After being drafted out of Grand Rapids Community College in ’75 (a year before Morris and Petry, to count just the pitchers), Rozema quickly began to look like either a companion to or replacement for Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. In 1977, the 20-year-old went 15-7 with a 3.09 ERA, coming in fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Fidrych was out for half the season with the injury that would ultimately end his career. Either he’d come back to health, giving the Tigers two amazing young hurlers, or they’d focus on developing Rozema, keeping in mind they were hot to bring Morris along.
Rozema didn’t advance on his ’77 success, though. While he always put up an ERA of under 4, he did so through nagging shoulder pain that began in ’78 and nagged him for years. He was in and out of the starting rotation.
Then came 1982, when he got off to a hot start, then he shredded the ligaments in his knee trying to karate kick a Minnesota Twin during a brawl. He was out for the rest of the season. Because this wasn’t the only act of recklessness he’d been involved in, and because his blown knee was added to his shoulder problems, Rozema couldn’t expect to be written in ink in the starting lineup for ‘83.
Berenguer and his new split-finger pitch started more games that Rozy did in ’83, though Rozema put up a cheering 8-3 record with a 3.43 E.R.A. What did ’84 hold for him and for the Tigers?
7) RP #38 Aurelio Lopez 6-0 185
B: 9.21.58 Tecamachalco, MX
When the 1983 season ended, Aurelio Lopez had as firmly-defined role in the Tigers’ pitching staff as either Jack Morris or Dan Petry. Senor Smoke was a great reliever.
Lopez grew up playing both soccer and baseball in the Mexican state of Puebla. He then went to the Autonomous University of Puebla to study Public Administration. But the pull of baseball got him, and he became a pro pitcher in Mexico.
After a brief stint with the Kansas City Royals, Mr. Smoke played a couple of additional seasons in Mexico, winning the Mexican League MVP in 1977. He came back North in ’78 and pitched for Missouri’s other team, the Cardinals. After the season, he was involved in a pretty big deal which sent minor league pitcher John Murphy and Tigers swingman Bob Sykes to St. Louis for Jerry Morales and Lopez.
Lopez went to work in the Motor City in ’79, winning 10 games, following it up with 13 in ’80. In ’83, he finished 46 games for the Tigers, saving 18. That led the team in saves, with second place going to Doug Bair with 4. In Lopez, the Tigers had a consistent performer with both heat and years of experience in the pitching arts.
It probably looked like he’d be the Tigers closer on the morning of Mar. 24, ’84, the day the Tigers sent Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss to the Phillies for Dave Bergman and one Willie Hernandez. Going into the regular season, all indicators were Hernandez would be the closer, with Lopez as set-up man.
8) RP #40 Doug Bair 6-0 170 lbs
B: 8.22.1949, Defiance, OH
Doug Bair saved 28 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1978. The team won 92 games and fired the manager, Sparky Anderson.
In ’79, under John McNamara, Bair’s ERA soared to 4.29 (no one’s blamin’ McNamara, I’m just giving facts here). In ’80 it was 4.24, 5.10 in ’81. In ’83, the graying 33-year-old was having a good season for St. Louis when Detroit got him for a Player to Be Named Later (who ended up being reliever Dave Rucker). Reunited with the Spark, Bair went 7-3 with a 3.88 ERA.
He seemed solid, a nice complement to Lopez. The problem was, that was just about the Tigers’ entire bullpen. Young Howard Bailey had been dicey in ’83, ended up in the minors in ’84 and left the game after that season. Dave Gumpert put up encouraging numbers, but he too would fail to crack the roster in ’84. Prospects like Pashnick and Jerry Ujdur hadn’t cashed in on their chances.
So Bair went North at the end of Spring Training as a needed component of the Tigers’ bullpen, one that was becoming increasingly staffed by veterans.
9) RP #21 Willie Hernandez 6-3 180 lbs
B: 11.14.1954 Aguada, Puerto Rico
People were not happy when the Tigers acquired Willie Hernandez. Or at least not those who wrote letters to the local papers on the occasion. Rumors of the trade had been rolling out the mill for a week or so, and it was the common (and correct) perception in TigerLand that Sparky was the driver of the deal.
One reader called Sparky a “bum,” another “the great con man.” Hernandez, the latter reader dismissed as “a journeyman National League pitcher who happens to be left-handed.”
Why so salty? Well, Hernandez was a bit of a journeyman. Having begun his career with the Cubs in 1977, Big Willie had amassed a career record of 34-32, with an average 3.77 ERA and all of 27 saves. Total.
He wasn’t a bad pitcher, and in ’83 had served as the set-up man for a pretty good closer for the Phillies named Al Holland. The fact that the Phillies made the World Series was a big reason Hernandez ultimately went to Detroit. The team was a quilt of aging superstars, many of them former Reds under Anderson, such as Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez. Whether or not seeing spare parts of his Big Red Machine humming for one last hurrah (they lost in 5) was Sparky’s main motive, he attended the series, along with Bill Lajoie.
When Hernandez took the mound for the Phils, Sparky liked the cut of his jib. Writes former Tigers’ pre-game show host Eli Zaret, “Roger Craig had influenced Sparky in appreciating macho pitchers, and Willie had a way of strutting around the mound that also turned Sparky on.”
Hernandez had supercharged his game by learning a screwball, a curveball that curves in the wrong direction. That may have “turned Sparky on” more than his strut, though watching Hernandez prowl the mound was always energizing.
The Tigers, as mentioned a minute ago, had a crumbling bullpen, even if one analysis might say that guys like Rucker or Pashnick deserved—and would reward—some development. But in ’83 the team lost an awful lot of games in which they had the lead in the late innings. The team’s ERA for innings 7-9 was 4.06, as one measure.
As for Glenn Wilson, he was an up-and-coming outfielder. Whether it’s the magic of memory fairy-dusted by the passage of nearly forty years or something else, Tigers fans tend to remember Wilson as though he were Kirby Puckett, or at least Jerry Mumphrey. But he wasn’t. He’d hit .292 in half a season in ’82, sure, but just .268 in ’83. A good young hitter who could field, and a presumptive regular in the Tigers outfield, but not a real star.
Still, though, Hernandez looked to be on par with say, Doug Bair, maybe not someone worth parting with Wilson for, nevermind the Bergman-Wockenfuss part of the deal.
Many Tigers players have reported being bewildered by the trade, and Wilson seemed to be a member of the team’s young in-crowd including Rozema, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, and Lance Parrish.
There wasn’t hard data to support a claim that Hernandez would be as good as Lopez, and certainly no better. So going into the ’84 season, the club didn’t seem to have a closer who would elevate the the weak performance of the year before, which saw Lopez leading in saves with a modest 18.
10) C #13 Lance Parrish 6-3, 210
B: 6.15.1956, Clairton, PA
If you’re reading this post, you probably know a bit about Bill Freehan. The catcher wasn’t just the dude who caught a pop-up near home plate to close out the ’68 World Series against the Cards. No, Freehan was an eleven-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glover. A stalwart, the kind of guy who fans value far above his stats, which were, to be fair, pretty good most seasons. A rock-solid catcher is very valuable in MLB.
So, Tigers fans were saddened when big Freehan retired at the end of 1976. Several months later, in ’77, Lance Parrish made his Major League debut.
Parrish, who grew up, like Dan Petry, in Southern California, had played Catcher and Third Base in high school, though everyone likes to talk about how he was Tina Turner’s bodyguard somewhere in there in an off-season or two.
Anyway, he was the Tigers first pick in 1974, a forerunner of the rebuilding effort meant to replace the likes of Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Norm Cash, Al Kaline, and Mickey Lolich, who were all just hanging on by then.
Parrish developed gradually, started pumping iron, became a fan favorite (among guys, too), and started putting up some big offensive numbers. By the end of ’83, he was probably the most feared Catcher to try to steal on in all of MLB. His explosive power was a huge asset, and he was among the league’s elite, a guy considered a catalyst for any advance the Tiges might make on their 92-win campaign of ’83.
11 C #25 Dwight Lowry 6-3 210
B: 10.23.57, Lumberton, NC
Near the close of the ’83 season, something amazing happened in the Tigers organization. They released 33-year-old backup Catcher Bill Fahey. Entrusting young Lance Parrish to the job left behind by Freehan, Detroit had done what a lot of franchises do, which is to keep around veteran Catchers as mentors, lifeguards, whatever metaphor you’d like.
In addition to Fahey, the Tigers had the scruffy and quizzical John Wockenfuss (who looked exactly like his name) who could do a bit of catching in addition to his other roles on the team. They cut the cord in ’83, sending Fahey (who could not hit a baseball) packing, then traded Wockenfuss in the Hernandez mega-deal. The backup catching job now went to young Dwight Lowry.
Lowry went to UNC, finishing up just before Michael Jordan arrived, and was an 11th-round pick for the Tigers. He hit from the left side and threw from the right. He wasn’t some highly-touted prospect—he just did his work and made the squad. He made his major league debut on opening night against the Twins. He wouldn’t last the whole season, but would get some innings in ’86 and ’87 before finishing his career with a few games in ’88.
Lowry passed away July 10, 1997.
To look at the infielders and outfielders, please head on over to part 2 of this post.
 Baseball-Reference.com. 1975 Detroit Tigers Pitching. https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/DET/1975-pitching.shtml
 Baseball-Reference.com. Mickey Lolich. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lolicmi01.shtml
 Bruce Markeson. “Cooperstown Had a Detroit Flavor…” Vintage Detroit. Aug 2. 2018. https://www.vintagedetroit.com/blog/2018/08/02/cooperstown-had-a-detroit-flavor-during-hall-of-fame-weekend/
 Ibid (same as above)
 Eli Zaret, ’84: The Last of the Great Tigers.Crofton Creek, 2004.
 Baseball-Reference.com. 1983 Detroit Tigers Pitching Splits. https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/split.cgi?t=p&team=DET&year=1983
 Baseball-Reference.com. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lowrydw01.shtml