Season Recap–June, Part II

Detroit Tigers pitcher Willie Hernandez

In Part One, I looked at the draining 14-game slog against the Blue Jays and Orioles.  Here are the other major developments in June.

1.Game-Winning Homers and Other Late-Inning Heroics

The 1984 Tigers were dominant.  They led all the way.  And you can’t do that without rising to the occasion when you have to.  You’re not always going to take a lead into the 8th, even if the Tigers were known, in Ernie Harwell’s phrase, as a “come-from-ahead team.”[1]

What the team may not get enough recognition for is its mettle in close games and its penchant for nailing homers in the last at-bat of the game.  Hey, in a season like this, it would be remiss not to win a few on the last swing of the bat, sending the fans home buzzing after a rocking encore.

It was a pretty big part of June, with the Tigers winning 3 games in true walk-off fashion, plus 1 in their last at bat on the road, and 2 more when they were tied or trailing going into the 8th.

Dave Bergman’s seven-minute triumph over Roy Lee Jackson is over here, so we’ll move on to other heroics. 

On the 20th, your Tigers hosted the Yankees for the last game of a series.  New York was a hard-hitting club, with Dave Winfield hitting .347 when the night began, and young Don Mattingly at .340.  The two were atop the race for the A.L. batting crown.  Their pitching ace that year was Phil Niekro, who’d put up a 3.09 ERA by year’s end, with 16 wins.  They had a motley assembly of journeyman pitchers who’d put up good numbers on the year.  However, star lefty Ron Guidry would go 10-11 with an ERA of 4.51.  In June, things hadn’t yet clicked for New York, and they were just 29-37 going into the 20th.

Bob Shirley and Dan Petry each let up runs in the early going of the contest, before settling down in the middle innings.  Through 5, it was 4-3 New York.  Parrish chased Shirley with a solo shot in the 6th, and it was 4 all.  Garbey gave the Tiges a lead in the 7th by singling in Gibby.  But in the top of the 8th, Winfield whacked a homer off of Lopez to square it at 5.

Well, that was no good in Chet Lemon’s book, so he ripped a homer to start the bottom of the 8th, and the home team led 6-5.  Sounds good, right?  With Hernandez on the mound?  Well, Willie Randolph doubled and the irrepressible Mattingly drove him in to tie it 6-6 in the 9th

Ray Fontenot set the Tigers down 1-2-3 in the 9th and we went to extra innings.  Fontenot and Hernandez became engaged in a pitching duel, each man silencing the bats of the opponent.  In the 12th, the Yankee reliever got Gibson, Trammell, and Bergman, and on to the 13th we went.  Doug Bair got Brian Dayett, Bob Meacham, and Willie Randolph, giving the Tiges another shot, this time in the bottom of the 13th.

19-year-old Jose Rijo was now on the mound, and Parrish greeted him with a single.  Lemon bunted him over, and the Tigers were on their way to manufacturing a run to win it.  The Yankees put Johnny Grubb on first with one out, then Lou Whitaker flew out to right.

To the plate, Howard Johnson.  A battle of young talent.   Howard got one he liked and drilled it safely into the upper deck in Tiger Stadium to win the game in scintillating fashion.[2]  Johnson was displaying the power and general hitting chops he’d been reputed to have all along.  After a huge double header at Baltimore and the game-tying dinger on the 4th against Toronto, he was proving indispensable. 

This Gibson homer was in the early-going of a Jun 18 loss to NY.

On the 26th, the same teams were playing again, this time in the Bronx.  Toronto had lost a double-header the night before, and the Tigers took a 9 game lead into the game.  Rusty Kuntz led off the night for Detroit, with Whitaker getting a breather.  Trammell hit next, then Garbey, who was playing first.  Castillo was catching, with Parrish in at the DH.  Juan Berenguer went up against Shane Rawley.

The Tigers scored first, but the Yanks put Berenguer through the ringer in the 3rd and by inning’s end, the Tigers’ lead was 4-3, with Lopez now on the mound.  In the bottom of the 6th, Butch Wynegar homered in Sparky’s former charge Ken Griffey to put NY up 6-4.

Sid Monge gave up a homer to another of the Yankees’ assorted journeyman sluggers, Don Baylor, in the 7th, and things were slipping away, 7-4.

Larry Herndon kicked off the 8th by getting on base via a Roy Smalley error.  Brookens singled him to second with no one out, and we got another look at Ray Fontenot.  Marty Castillo sent one to short, and Bob Meacham threw it to 3rd to get the lead runner.  Johnson flew out for the 2nd out of the inning, then Kuntz walked, sending Castillo to second.  Clay Christiansen came in to face Alan Trammell.  By now, it was cemented: Trammell was a paragon of leadership and mettle, a class act and clutch performer.  He singled in Brookens and Castillo to narrow it to 6-7.  Kuntz made it to third on the hit.

Darrell Evans stepped up to the occasion and drove Trammell in to tie it in front of the dazed New York faithful.  The game went to extra innings, 7-7.  Willie Hernandez shut down the Yankees arsenal completely, and in 10th, Parrish popped a 2-run homer to give the Tigers a lead 9-7.  Hernandez struck out Bob Meacham to end the thriller, another great win along the Wire-to-Wire road for the Tigers.

Parrish at home on the 19th; on the 26th, he’d contribute his late-inning heroics against the Yankees.

On Friday the 29th, the marathon of games against just four Eastern foes, Toronto, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and New York had come to an end.  For all intents and purposes, we were in the July schedule, with the Twins in town for a twin bill.  We lost game 1, 5-3, with Jack Morris suffering an L in a rough month (more about that below).  Game 2 matched Milt Wilcox against Mike Smithson.  Smithson was a righty, and the Tigers’ left-handed crew was in, with Grubb DH-ing, Jones in left, and Bergman a first. 

The Tigers greeted Smithson with a barrage of homers from Gibson, Lemon, and Jones, who was now a fan favorite, having treated them to a rooftop blast against Milwaukee five days earlier.  The rest of the AL had to be cursing the Pirates for cutting the recent All-Star at the end of Spring Training—and themselves for not signing him.  He was just too good on a club that wasn’t lacking depth, and his addition couldn’t have been more perfect: Herndon was still mired in an amazing slump, so a left-handed hitter to platoon with him was ideal.  And Jones was making the most of the opportunity!

However, the Twins fought back and tied it at 4 when Tim Laudner homered off Wilcox in the 5th.  In the 6th, third baseman Gary Gaetti got Kent “Herbie” Hrbek in with a sac fly, making it 5-4 Twins.  Parrish tied it in the bottom of the 7th by doubling home Tram.

It stayed tied into the bottom of the 9th.  The house was rocking for another weekend party at the corner, with 44 thousand present.  The Twins put lefty Pete Filson into the game with Gibson due up third in the inning. Sparky had recently announced his intention to sit Gibson against lefties, and that would probably also mean pinch-hitting for him.  But with the lefty lineup already used, there was no one to put in for Gibson.[3]

Up to the plate he went with 2 outs and no one on.  This was the beginning of the Gibson Mystique, the reputation he’d earn for being best in the clutch, the man capable of owning the occasion when others would wilt.  Before the homers in the ’84 Series, before ’88 against Eckersley, here he stood, trying to prove he could hit left-handed pitching.

Well, he homered.  A walk-off in front of a wild-eyed Detroit (Rock City) crowd who had to be increasingly convinced there was nothing holding this team back.  Gibson would keep hitting against lefties, and go on to start the most games (149) of any Tiger—stump your friends?

The Tigers didn’t just have power–they displayed it at the right time. | Photo Lennox McLendon

2.Morris Falls From Grace

Jack Morris had been scorching-hot at the beginning of the ’84 season.  He’d started 10-1 and seemed to be on his way to an absolutely special season.  But he hurt his elbow in June.  It happened in the second game of the series at Toronto, the 12th.  He let up 6 runs on 8 hits in 3 innings.  Along the way, he felt a creep of pain in his right elbow, and went to the team doctor after leaving the game.  Milt Wilcox was battling an ongoing arm pain that season, and was taking cortisone.  Jack’s preference on that matter was: “I ain’t taking no shots.”[4]  And so he didn’t.

He actually battled valiantly through the month, considering the pain.  On the 24th, at home against Milwaukee, he matched up against veteran Moose Haas, who’d gone 13-3 in ’83, but was now beginning to fade.  The Brewers had one of many great offensive arsenals in the East, and had made it to the World Series in ’82.  Their tragedy was that they’d lost future Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor to injury for the rest of ‘84; stars like Cecil Cooper and Ben Oglivie were experiencing a slowdown in production due to age, and Robin Yount couldn’t do it all.  They had plenty of talent, but couldn’t consistently match up with Detroit, Toronto, and Baltimore for six months, and would finish dead last.

Well, against this crew, Morris was at it again, hurling a no-hitter through five, getting Milwaukee to ground out time and time again.  He’d struck out just three.  And this was with arm trouble.  The crowd knew—by five, the Detroit crowd of 39K had to know.  And Morris knew by then. To go so far as 7 full on an attempt for a second no-hitter in a season would gain him some measure of immortality. 

Indicating his anxiety over the prospect to The Sporting News, Morris said “I didn’t want to put up with the bull which goes with it.”7

It wasn’t to be, though.  Ed Romero, a utility infielder who’d later play for Detroit for a spell, broke it up with a single in the 6th.  In the bottom of the inning was a big rally including Ruppert’s rooftop homer, and it was now a blowout, 7-0.  There was no reason to keep Morris in, and Sparky gave him the hook with a 1-hit shutout.  Lopez would go the rest of the way in a 7-1 win.

But that was the only smooth outing for Morris on the month.  Jack went 2-3 for June, with a 5.16 ERA. His overall record was now a sterling 12-4, yet Petry would actually notch his 13th win before Jack, becoming the first in the majors to do so.  Morris was getting—rightly—frustrated with the pain and the results of trying to pitch through it, and it would boil over in July.

But for now, the month was over.  The Tigers were 55-21, exactly 10 up on Toronto, who had the second-best record in baseball.  Here are the standings in the East—and from here on in I’ll give just the top 4:

                           W   L       GB

Tigers                  55  21     —

Blue Jays            45  31     10

Orioles                42  35     13.5

Red Sox              36  40     19.0

In the West, the Angels were the only team with a winning record, and they had a 3 game lead over Chicago, who hardly anyone remembers being in the race at all.  But every single team in that godforsaken division was in the race, including the Texas Rangers, who were 35-44.  Minnesota was tied with Chicago and 3 back, while the Royals were still spinning wheels at 33-40. 

Who was tied with the Cubs in the NL East?  Wrong, it was the Phillies, at 42-34.  That made 2 playoff teams from the year before in the thick of their pennant race.  The Mets were a game-and-a-half back.

In the West, the Padres clung to a 2.5-game lead over Atlanta, while the Dodgers had sagged and were 41-39, 5.5 games back, but still a 3rd team from the previous season’s postseason with a legit shot in ’84.

The Stories in Major League Baseball

One of the reasons for the Cubs’ increased hot play was a new acquisition, the veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, on the 13th.  Sutcliffe had been the Dodgers’ first-round pick in 1974.  In ’77, he’d won 17 games.  While arm trouble is all-too-common in pro ball, Sutcliffe suffered a foot injury in ’81, and threw just 47 innings.  It was then on to Cleveland, where he’d react to a change of pace with a big year in ’82.  In ’83, he managed to win 17 on a losing team with a 4.29 record, but started the ’84 campaign 4-5 with the Indians, with a 5.15 ERA.

Then came a monumental trade.  The Cubs were in deep trouble partway through a year in which they were, at the time, 3 games up on the Mets.  Veteran pitcher Dick Ruthven had just been put on the disabled list, and Scott Sanderson was missing starts due to back trouble.  They had to have someone.  So, they took young prospects Joe Carter and Mell Hall and bundled them into a 7-man deal. 

Chicago GM Dallas Green had a fascinating way of characterizing the trade, saying “we hate to give away good players,” referring mostly to Hall, who’d been hitting .277 at the time.[5]  I’m sure they exuded about Sutcliffe at some point, but for then, they were giving away Hall…and Carter.

Over the years, the trade would be scrutinized, and Cubs fans were probably wondering  “what if” in the early 90’s when Carter, for example, won the ’93 World Series for Toronto with a homer.  Imagine a franchise having two strong outfielders like that coming up through the ranks at the same time. Well, the Indians didn’t win with them (and didn’t keep Hall past ’88), and then there was the tall, bearded pitcher in the deal.

Sutcliffe took well to playing for a team that could score runs, and would be one of the big stories of the year, amassing a near-mythical 16-1 record with Chicago in just over half a season.

Also in the realm of pitching, young Dwight Gooden was becoming a star.  In a June game against the Pirates, he struck out 5 in a row, and was tied for the league lead in strikeouts. By Father’s Day, his record was 5-3, but it was his dominating capabilities that were outshining the W-L record.[6]

Tony Gwynn was leading the batting title race in the NL East while his Padres continued to hold onto first place with white knuckles.  Rookie 1B Alvin Davis was among AL leaders in home runs and RBI by month’s end.  The Red Sox were getting great power hitting from Tony Armas (who’d go on to lead the AL in HR), and great all-around offense from Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs.  Rookie Roger Clemens was struggling but coping in occasional starts, with a 2-1 record but an ERA of 6.05 at month’s end.

Tigers in Context—the World Around the Tigers

One of the big sporting events in June was the NBA Finals, in which the Celtics outlasted the Lakers in 7.  Here’s something to stump your friends with: game 7’s leading scorer for Boston was forward Cedric Maxwell.

The University of Michigan’s baseball team made it to the College World Series, but lost their only two games and were eliminated by New Orleans.

On the 30th, the Michigan Panthers were bounced from the USFL quarterfinals by the Los Angeles Express.  L.A., Arizona, Birmingham, and Philadelphia would advance.

The Olympics were a month away, and the U.S.S.R. had announced its boycott.  Recall, in 1980 the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Summer games to protest Russia’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

On an even heavier note in global politics, on the 5th, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered at attack on the Sikh holy site, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  The purpose of the military action, which lasted from Jun 1 to Jun 8, was to expel a group led by Sikh leader Jarnil Singh Bhindranwale from the temple complex.

The Sikh militants were armed, and Operation Blue Star became a bloody catastrophe, with 493 civilians and 83 Indian military personnel killed. 

On the 11th, he U.S. Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained illegally can be used in court if it would have “inevitably” been found during a legal process.

The Presidential Primaries were reaching their conclusions.  For the Republicans, Ronald Reagan was running unopposed.  The Democrats were closing in on naming former V.P. Walter Mondale their nominee.  He won the states with the most delegates, dominating the East and South, while challenger Gary Hart swept the small states out West.   

In entertainment, 1984 was a huge Summer.  Tigers fans scurried to get to the theaters when a game wasn’t on to take in June’s new releases.  It was a big month in film.  First, on the 7th and 8th, respectively Gremlins and Ghostbusters opened. What we learned: don’t feed the mogwai after midnight, don’t get them wet, and whatever you do, do not cross the streams.

If that wasn’t enough, on the 22nd, during the Tigers’ homestand against Milwaukee, a story about a troubled young boy who just wanted to learn karate and who met a kindly old Japanese man premiered.  What we learned? Not just wax on, but also wax off.

In music, big doin’s.  Two epochal albums were released early in the month: Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. and Prince’s Purple Rain.  The lead singles were, respectively, “Dancin’ in the Dark” and “When Doves Cry.” 

The soundtrack to the Summer was shaping up: the big hits were “Let’s Hear it For the Boy,” by Deniece Williams, “Oh, Sherrie” by Steve Perry, and Huey Lewis & the News’ “The Heart of Rock & Roll.” ZZ Top’s “Legs” was big on MTV and getting plenty of airplay, as was the Cars’ “Magic.”

New releases included Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night” and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

There was a lot to invest one’s entertainment time and attention in that Summer.  The Cold War was zipping along harmlessly, and if you wanted to do some Russia hatin’, you had your reasons.  The Olympics were about to begin, movies were great, and the Tigers had a good hammer lock on the Eastern Division.  Let the Summer roll.

[1] WJR. “Wire to Wire Champions: Inside the 1984 Detroit Tigers Champion Season.” Radio Broadcast

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

[3] Eli Zaret. 84: The Last Great Tigers. South Boardman, MI: Crofton Creek. 2004.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Associated Press. “Cubs Send Hall to Indians in 7-Man Deal.”  The New York Times. June 14, 1984.

[6] This Week in Baseball. NBC Sports. Jun. 1984. 1980s Sports Home.

7 Morris Recovers to Post 100 Win. The Sporting News. Jul 9, 1984.

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