It was 1984, a year of triumph and Trial in the Motor City. The auto industry was resurging with Mazda building a new 450-million-dollar plant in Flat Rock. Isaiah Thomas, who played for the Pistons, was named the MVP of the all-star game. Detroit recorded a record low temperature in January, a numbing 21 degrees below zero. Motown Musician Marvin Gaye passed away in 1984. Michigan lost to Auburn in the Sugar bowl. The Lions went 4-11-1, the Pistons were eliminated in the conference semifinals… the Red Wings finished below .500. Detroit had not seen a championship since 1968, when the Tigers won the World Series. It was time for Detroit to get back in the driver’s seat. The Tigers were a team steadily gaining ground under Sparky Anderson. Sparky was the leader of the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. Detroit jumped on the opportunity when he was let go from Cincinnati in 1978. Anderson was hired the year after by Detroit, and the rest was history.
After 1972, the Tigers were a stagnant team for years. Outside a dreadful season in 1975, Detroit was not bad in that span. However, they never won over 90 games or contended for the division in that period of time. Sparky Anderson changed the tide upon arrival. The Tigers were contenders in 1981 and won 90+ games in 1982 and 1983. They were relevant and determined to make 1984 the season of success. Detroit had what was, in my opinion, the best middle infield in baseball. Lou Whitaker at second base had an OBP of .357, a SLG of .407, and an OPS of .764. He was an all-star, a back-to-back Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger winner. He was special at the plate, drawing 62 walks and only striking out 63 times. However, his partner next to him was nothing short of a miracle. Alan Trammell played shortstop in Detroit. He had a batting average over .300, an OBP of .382, and a .851 OPS. Like Whitaker, he was incredibly disciplined at the plate, walking 60 times and striking out 63 times. Let us not forget Kirk Gibson in Right Field. He blasted 27 home runs, 91 RBIs, and an outstanding 29 stolen bases. Pair that with his .879 OPS and 142 OPS+; he was a crucial part of the Tigers order. Gibson and Trammell both finished top ten in AL MVP voting that year. They would be the eventual core of the Detroit Tigers in 1984.
With those three MLB legends, names like Chet Lemon, who had a .357/.495 slash line, are often forgotten. Catcher Lance Parrish hit 33 home runs, and the Tigers lineup led the American League with the most runs scored. They could flat-out hit the ball. Everyone knows scoring runs is great, but you have to be able to pitch to be a complete team. Sparky Anderson had a top-heavy staff loaded with young talent. Jack Morris was the lead man for Detroit. He was 29 years old, managed to throw nine complete games, and won 19 games that year on the mound. The word most often used to describe Morris is Clutch. He stepped up in big moments. He would be paired with 25-year-old Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox. Petry won 18 games, Wilcox won 17 games, and posted a 4.00 ERA. The relief pitching was arguably even better. Aurelio Lopez was an absolute stud. He pitched a lot of innings, 137 to be exact. He had a sub 3.00 ERA and won ten games. The name everyone remembers, however, is Willie Hernandez. The Cy Young winner and MVP threw for a 1.90 ERA and saved 32 games that year. He SHUT DOWN games when it mattered most. As a closer, he pitched 140 innings and was absolutely dominant all season.
The 1984 Tigers have a record that will not be beaten for a long time. They started the season 35-5… that is literally unheard of. They never really slowed down. They were up 12 games and would beat the Brewers to secure the division. They won the division easily and moved on to play the Kansas City Royals in the 1984 ALCS. It was still a five-game series, although, in 1985, it would move to a seven-game series. Kansas City would win the 1985 World Series the next season, but in 1984 they were not a great ball club. The Royals only won 84 games, but the first two games would be played in Kansas City. The Tigers came into Kansas City and blew the doors off the Royals in Game One. Games two and three came down to the wire, but the Tigers managed to sweep the Royals. It was official, Detroit was moving on to the World Series.
The San Diego Padres were managed by Dick Williams. With players like Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, and Goose Gossage… San Diego was a good team. They played the Tigers very closely, splitting the first two games in San Diego. When they returned to Detroit, the Tigers feasted, seeing over 50,000 people in attendance for every game. Detroit swept the middle series games three in a row. Most memorable was the last game, Kirk Gibson hit a three-run homer to give the Tigers an 8-4 lead. They were one inning away from being World Series Champions. History was completed; the Tigers had won the World Series. Beating the Padres 4-1 in a seven games series. The 1984 team was electric, talented, and special. Oddly enough, they were never able to do it again. They won a 1987 AL East title but failed to make it back to the World Series.
On to the festivities, it was a party in Detroit. The 1984 Tigers parade was a very high point in the city’s history. Ernie Harwell was swarmed by supporters, Jack Morris playing around with Rozema. Sparky Anderson dressed in plaid, puffing on his old tobacco pipe. Alan Trammell accepted the proclamation making the week known as “Detroit Tiger Week.” He would address the fans later on in the parade. The streets erupted when Kirk Gibson grabbed the microphone. He jumped up and down, arms raised in victory… screaming for the thousands in attendance. An exact replica of his World Series celebration. After 104 wins, a world series win, and a parade for the history books… it seemed like the world was right there for the Tigers to take and never let go of. Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018. Sparky Anderson made the Hall of Fame in 2000. Kirk Gibson and Lou Whitaker are still awaiting their induction… hopefully soon. To the 1984 Tigers… Thank You. We will never forget it.