Season Recap–Aug

Lance Parrish high-fiving Kirk Gibson in a baseball stadium

Check out all the monthly recaps of the 1984 season.

If you want to become a big sports cliché, go on a slump during August.  August and slumps go together only too well:

The daaaawwwwwwwggg daaaaaaaaaaays of Awwwwww-gust.

It’s hot.  So hot. Everyone’s lawn is yellow and prickly.  The mosquitoes are out and it’s miserable. The heat underscores how tired everyone is.  To hear people tell it, how could you not slump in August?  It’s against nature not to slump in August.

And the 1984 Tigers did. 

August summary:

                       Week Record            Overall Record             Lead

Aug1-Aug 7     3-7                         74-40                           9

Aug 8-Aug 15  4-3                         78-43                           9

Aug 16-Aug 23 6-1                         84-44                           12.5

Aug 24-Aug 30 3-4                         87-48                           9.5

Overall             16-15

So let’s take a look at the month’s key events.

7 Days in August

  1. 4 Days in August

Hump days, right?  Get over this one and it’s a mad rush to the weekend.  Shew, thank God when Wednesday’s over.  Well, on Wednesday, August 15, it couldn’t have been too chipper around the Tigers’ clubhouse.  They’d just dropped a double-header against the California Angels, and were a not-great 7 ½ up on Toronto.

Sparky was despondent about the bullpen and, really, the whole pitching staff.[1]  They’d played an absurd four double headers in two weeks, including three in a row from the 5th-7th.  And, well, it’s the dog days, so everyone was aching and pissed off, and Trammell was out of the lineup again.

This was a big moment for Detroit.  Lose tonight, and if Toronto sweeps lowly Cleveland in their double header, your lead is 5 ½.

But they rose to the occasion.  Tom Brookens, starting at short, got three hits and 2 RBI.  Dave Bergman checked into the game in the 7th, hitting for Garbey, and tripled in Whitaker and to extend the lead to 5-2.  In the 8th he tripled again, scoring Whitaker again, along with Howard Johnson.

Petry continued to be the rock he’d been in July, going 8 innings giving up a mere 3 runs.  Willie needed 11 pitches to get the save in the 9th[2] (on the previous night, he’d given up a lead in the 9th for a rare loss, and was now 6-2 with 25 saves).

But what was better was the near-miracle by the lake pulled off by the Indians, who swept the Blue Jays, winning the nightcap on a Joe Carter single in 13 innings.[3]  Just like that, the lead was back to 9.

The next night was a real gut check for the club.  Morris was on the mound, and the hitters spotted him a 5-run lead through 2.  He gave up 3 in the 3rd.  Then in the 4th, Brian Downey popped a 3-run homer to put the Angels up 7-5.

Doug Bair came in—in the 4th inning—the kind of thing Sparky had been groaning about of late.  This one would be a bitter pill if California’s lead held up.

Chet Lemon singled to lead off the bottom of the 8th.  John Grubb took a walk, and Doug Baker came in to pinch-run.  Don Aase came into the game to face Whitaker, and loaded the bases by walking him.  To the plate, Trammell.  He ripped a huge single to score Lemon and Baker, tying it up, 7 all.

Aase got the side out without the lead changing, and he and Hernandez locked horns in a pitching duel.  In the 11th, Willie struck out the side, Grich, Lynn, and DeCinces, In the 12th, he fanned Reggie Jackson and Jerry Narron.

In the bottom of the inning, veteran lefty John Curtis came in for Cali. Chet Lemon came through again with a single.  This time, he was forced out at second, with Johnson making it to first on the play.  Barbaro Garbey’s double drove him in for a thrilling, much needed 8-7 win.

Cleveland edged Toronto 6-5, so our lead was 10.

On night 3 of this pivotal stretch, Seattle was in town, Mike Moore on the mound against Milt Wilcox. Trammell was back in the lineup and reported being able to throw all right.  The Tigers won the game with their patented string-of-hits routine, Gibson knocking in Lou and Tram in the 1st, and Jones and Evans hitting RBI singles in the 3rd.

With the 6-2 win, the Tigers maintained their 10-game lead.

Trammell’s return to short wasn’t a moment too soon |Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

On Saturday, Berenguer struck out 12 in an 8 1/3-inning, 3-run performance (two runs charged to him came with Hernandez in) for a 4-3 win in which Gibson’s 6th inning 3-run homer made the difference.  The lead was eleven! The Tigers had advanced 3.5 games in 4 days with 4 wins.

On Sunday, young whipper-snapper Mark Langston struck out 11 of his own, putting us down 5-1.

2. 3 Rowdy Nights

The second half of the 7-game stretch began on Monday the 20th, with Oakland in town.  After trials and tribulations against Langston, the Tigers’ bats were ready for A’s starter Curt Young, who was having a perfectly good season. 

Parrish and Lemon knocked young Young out in the 3rd with their homers; Evans drilled one off Chuck Rainey; and Bergman drove in the Tiges’ 14th run off former Tigers infielder Mark Wagner, who garnered one of those “why not” pitching assignments.  Tigers win 14-1.

Tuesday, Rickey Henderson led things off with a solo homer off Wilcox.  The A’s were up 2-0 after half an inning.  Then, the home team loaded the bases and Parrish pounded one into the upper deck to put us up 4-2.  Lary Sorenson walked Dave Bergman with the bases jammed in the 3rd, and that was the kind of night Oakland would have.  Detroit went on to win 12-6.

Parrish’s grand slam against Oakland

On Wednesday, the lesser-knowns had a field day, Castillo chalking up 3 RBI, Garbey 2, and Kuntz and Doug Baker one apiece.  The Tigers won 11-4, completing a series of wins with double figure scoring in each.  At the end of this 6-1 stretch, the lead was 12 ½, near the end of August.

This was one of my most favorite series of the year.  We all love offensive outbursts, grand slams, Doug Baker doubles.  And I recall being relieved at such a dominating performance, and pretty sure they’d win the whole thing.  While they’d lose the next 3, the big lead they’d given themselves allowed them to absorb a downswing.

Back and Forth With Kansas City

The Tigers played 7 games against the powder-blue boys from the prairie in August, going 3-4 against them.  Each team won every road game during this see-saw affair.

Early in the month, K.C. took the Tigers to the woodshed in front of their home crowd, sweeping them 9-6, 9-5, 5-4, and 5-0, the last two in a Sunday doubleheader.

The fans booed throughout the series, and Willie Hernandez picked up his first loss on the 5th when Dane Iorg lofted one over Ruppert’s head for an RBI hit in the top of the 9th.  After the double header, the team sent Rusty K. to Evansville and brought up Carl Willis for his second stint of the year to try to salve the wounds of their tired bullpen.

The next weekend, it was a re-match in Kansas City.  On Friday, a see-saw affair, with heroics from the likes of George Brett and Willie Wilson for the opposition.  For Detroit, Kirk Gibson lifted a homer in the 6th to tie it at 4, and Ruppert Jones hit one of his own in the 8th.  Lopez and Hernandez held the 5-4 lead for the W.

On Saturday, Morris helped his team just by going 8 2/3 innings.  He got knocked around to the tune of 11 hits, but 5 of those were in the 9th, and it had been a blowout until then.  Gibby and Parrish each homered, and their teammates drove guys in with sac flies and groundouts, and Detroit booked a win, 9-4. 

On Sunday, the road team grabbed the momentum while people were still finding their seats, Evans knocking in Parrish and Trammell with a triple, then Jones homering to make the lead 4-0.  In the 8th, with the lead at 5-4, Whitaker doubled in two before Tram doubled him in to make it 8-4.

Hernandez pitched two solid innings without the help of a strikeout to close out the sweep.  As in July, the Tigers remained streaky, with wins—and losses—coming in threes and fours.  That’s the kind of structure that can give rise to worries.  Fans and players alike all-too-easily forget wins in the middle of even a mild losing streak.  The Tigers emerged from the month just fine, only a game-and-a-half under where they’d entered it.  It was basically a month of marking time, and they defeated the dog days by living through them.

Parrish had an uneven Aug., but delivered when it counted. Here’s his game winner homer at Boston on the 7th.

Chet’s Close Call

On Sept. 8, 1983, Yankee—and former Tiger—Steve Kemp was in the outfield during batting practice.  Omar Moreno whacked a line shot that found Kemp just under the eye.  Not only did it shatter some of his teeth, but, more crucially to his baseball career, the jolt damaged his retina.

The accident rendered Kemp’s vision 20-50 and compromised the level of depth perception necessary to hit a pitch.[4]  Now, quizzically, Kemp did hit .291 in a platoon role in 1984[5].  However, the condition seemed to deteriorate and Kemp’s production atrophied.  And his career slid to an early conclusion.

A year later, Aug. 26, Chet Lemon faced the prospects of a similar tragedy.  Star Angels outfielder Fred Lynn sent a fly ball into the DisneyLand sun that had Lemon flipping his shades up and down, desperately trying to find the ball.  Lemon says:

                          Then the ball came down and hit me right between the eyes.

                          I never saw it.  The blow was so severe that the glasses

                          split in half and flew all the way to the warning track…Blood

                          was just gushing from my eye area and then they rushed me

                          to the hospital and gave me 12 stitches.

                          I suffered a mild concussion, and didn’t realize til

                          later that I had what was called vertigo…

                          I was so sick for the next coupla days that you couldn’t

                          imagine.  They gave me medication to try and correct

                          the dizziness and stuff I was experiencing.  I couldn’t

                          even get outta bed.  When I stepped, everything was moving.

                          I’d think my foot was hitting the ground and I still had

                          a long way to go.[6]

As late as Sept.1, Sparky reported “Chet Lemon is still feeling dizzy and hasn’t even been able to come to the park.”[7]  He wouldn’t reappear in the starting lineup until the 8th, game 2 of the huge series at Toronto.  However, Lemon would finish out the season and start every game of the postseason.  He’d have a great 1987 and stay with the team through ’90.

Lemon and the Tigers were a half-inch—and some cruel chance—away from a starkly different outcome. The boys were truly blessed. 

Lemon with a sliding catch

Miscellaneous August

The Tigers ended the month at 87-48, with 3 straight losses.  Their lead was at 9 ½. On the penultimate game, the 30th, Jack Morris, squaring off against Jim Beattie, had a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the 8th.  He walked Spike Owen, and when Jack Perconte put down a bunt, Morris gunned it past Evans into right field.  Gibson then tried to get Perconte at third and threw it into the Tigers’ dugout.  Perconte scored to make it 2-1, which would be the final.[8]

Bill Scherrer joined the team on the 28th, having been traded for Carl Willis.  He’d been having a bit of a rough year with his former team, Cincinnati, with a 4.99 ERA.[9], but his ’83 numbers had been stronger.  He made his entrance to the new club by throwing one in tight to Dave Bergman in b.p.. Bergman pulled a back muscle backing away, and was put on the d.l.[10] This was within days of Lemon being hit in Anaheim.

Sparky mused, in his published diary, that Bill Lajoie was trying to get Lee Lacey to give the team some good right-handed hitting[11]. One shudders to think who they team would’ve had to give up for Lacey, yet it has occurred to me that he would’ve been a great element for the team in the early-mid 80’s. 

The offensive stats had not only come back to earth, but the team was clearly one without a player boasting superstar stats.  Trammell’s average was down to a very good .312, and Whitaker was in second place on that score, at .294.  Parrish led the team in homers, with 29, then Gibson with 23.  Those two were the team leaders in RBI, with 83 and 77,  respectively.

The team’s pinch-hitting B.A. was an impressive .298.

Among pitchers, Morris had now re-taken the lead in wins with his 17-9 record; Petry was at 15-8, and Wilcox, 15-7.  Lopez was still unbeaten, at 10-0 with a tidy 2.61 ERA while Hernandez stood 8-2 and 2.04, with 26 SVs.  One curious stat is the Morris and Berenguer had matching ERA’s: 3.54.

The state attorney general opened a probe into Tigers’ employees scalping tickets.  This came after the Free-press reported that stadium employees were buying as many as a hundred desirable seats and distributing them to a network of scalpers to sell at above-market prices.[12]

Baltimore Holds Its Own; New York Rallies

A.L. East Standings (top 4) August 31:

                          W    L    GB

Tigers                87    48  —

Blue Jays           77    57  9.5

Orioles              72    61  14

Yankees            71    62  15

Champs in Context: the Baseball World at the end of August

All races but the A.L West were revealing a clear front-runner.  Here are the leaders in the troubled A.L. West:

                          W    L    GB

Twins                69    65  —

Royals               67    67  2

Angels               66    67  2.5

White Sox          62    71  6.5

The front-running Twins wouldn’t have been an afterthought in the East, but that’s where the race was. Power was a one part of the Twins’ “success”: Tom Brunansky hit a serious 11 home runs in the month, finishing it with 28[13]; Kent Hrbek ended the month with 23.  But defense may have been a bigger component.  The year-end stats for dWAR have Puckett at 3.3, Gaetti at 2.6, and Teufel at 1.5.

The Royals had been hammered by injuries.  George Brett, having struggled with back injuries earlier, hit the d.l. again with a torn hammy on the 20th.[14] The infield was hit hard, with Greg Pryor, Onix Concepcion, and U.L. Washington all going down.  Dane Iorg got his first career start at 3rd, and the team picked up shortstop Bucky Dent.[15]

The two frontrunners had two series against each other scheduled in September.

In the N.L. East, the Cubs were giving Harry Caray a lot to shout and slur about, and were definitely in the driver’s seat, with a 5 ½ game lead over New York.  Here are the standings for the top of the division:

                          W    L    GB

Cubs                  80    54  —

Mets                  74    59  5.5

Phillies              72    61  7.5

Cardinals           67    65  12.0

Rick Sutcliffe’s slider was helping the Cubbies—in the month, he became the first Cub to win 8-straight games since ’72.[16]  The Mets were enjoying the production of rookie Dwight Gooden; aside from him, while individual players weren’t putting up great stats, the team was getting it done one way or another.[17]

In the West, the Padres were the team with the biggest lead in baseball at month’s end.  The standings:

                          W    L    GB

Padres               78    56  —

Astros                68    67  10.5

Braves               66    68  12.0

Dodgers             63    72  15.5

Early in the month, the Padres’ new hope, Kevin McReynolds, hit .424, with 4 homers during an 11-game stretch.  Tony Gwynn went .436 over a 10-game interval.[18] On the 12th, the Pads and Braves launched into an amazing series of brawls which has lived to infamy to this day.

The Astros, captained by former Tiger Enos Cabell, won 12 of 14 near the end of the month to vault over the Braves into 2nd place.[19]

All-in-all, none of the playoff teams from 1983 were in their respective races, unless one counts the White Sox, 6.5 back in the West.

                          Around the League

On Aug. 21, Red Sox rook Roger Clemens struck out fifteen K.C. hitters—without walking any. Royals coach Mike Ferraro said “He has the best stuff in the American League, hands down.”[20]  That would age well.

What wouldn’t was a column by Sporting News Senior Editor Stan Isle entitled “Gwynn’s Brother May Be Better Hitter.”

Padres General Manager “Trader” Jack McKeon complained about the outfield at Jack Murphy, which kicked up sand when balls landed and caused the balls to veer suddenly.  It was revealed that the green-green grass had been painted.

Pete Rose became the player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. 

World Events

The biggest event of August was the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  Partly because the U.S.S.R. was absent, the U.S. dominated. A quick summary just isn’t possible, but the biggest single superstar was the U.S.’s Carl Lewis, who won four gold medals.  The Olympiad saw great performances from some of the biggest stars of the generation in Olympic sports, such as Mary-Lou Retton and Greg Louganis.

In all, the U.S. won 174 medals, including 83 golds.  This was good fun for fans across the nation, but a bit of a problem for the McDonald’s chain.  The company ran a promotion giving free items for U.S. wins.  A scratchoff card listed a particular event for the purchaser, and a U.S. gold meant a free Big Mac, silver won fries, and bronze, a soda.  Well, 83 times Ronald had to give out free Macs all across the land, not to mention the golden fries and gurgling sodas.  Some locations ran out of burgers!

After the games ended, the Republicans held their convention and nominated incumbent Ronald Reagan and his veep, George H.W. Bush.

On the 16th, John DeLorean was acquitted on cocaine charges.

On the 22nd, the last Volkswagen Rabbit bounded down the production line.

Five days later, Ronald Reagan announced a program to put a teacher in space.

Movie buffs were better off watching cable this month.  In theaters, the only noteworthy new release was Red Dawn, a frightening Cold War fantasy.  Both the U.S. and Russia did mount nuclear tests that month.

In music, we were sliding into autumn with a fleet of mid-tempo hits: not rockers, not tear-jerking songs of heartbreak, but meandering songs like Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” John Waite’s “Missing You,” Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You,” and Huey Lewis & the News’s “If This is It.”

Prince was dominating with Purple Rain, which hit number 1, where it would stay for 6 months.  At the end of the month, he had two singles on the Billboard Top 10 at once, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”

The Tigers had made it through the Dog Days and were poised for a month of games against Eastern Division foes.  The state of Michigan was gearing up for a pennant!  

[1] Anderson, Sparky. Bless You Boys: Diary of the Detroit Tigers 1984 Season. Chicago: Contemporary Books.

[2] Ibid

[3] Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians box score, August 15, 1984.

[4] Holzwarth, Dean.

[5] Steve Kemp.

[6][6] Zaret, Eli. ‘84: The Last of the Great Tigers. South Boardman: Crofton Creek. 2004.

[7] Anderson.

[8] Detroit Tigers at Seattle Mariners box score, August 30, 1984.

[9] Bill Scherrer.

[10] Zaret.

[11] Anderson.

[12] Detroit Ticket Scalping Probe. The Sporting News. Aug 27, 1984.

[13] Tom Brunansky batting splits, 1984.

[14] Fish, Mike. Exiled Dent Happy to Be With Royals. The Sporting News. Sept. 3, 1984.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Goddard, Joe. Sutcliffe’s Been a Godsend. The Sporting News. Aug. 27, 1984.  

[17] Lang, Jack. Road-weary Mets are Still in Race. The Sporting News. Sept. 3, 1984.

[18] Collier, Phil. Templeton in S.D. Stabilizer. The Sporting News Aug. 20, 1984.

[19] Shattuck, Harry. Dark Season for Knight. The Sporting News. Sept. 3, 1984.

[20] Gammons, Peter. Royals Should Switch to Real Grass. Sept. 3, 1984.

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