Paying Tribute to the Greatest Tiger Team of My Generation
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Howard Johnson was one of those Tigers who got away. The switch hitting rookie had a solid campaign his first season, hitting twelve homeruns and driving in fifty in 355 at bats. But for whatever reason, he never was on Sparky’s good side and during the offseason, he was traded to the Mets for Walt Terrell, a solid left handed starter.
HoJo then went on to have three 30/30 seasons, and he finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times for the Mets. In 1991, he led the league in homeruns (38) and RBIs (117) and was seventh in OPS (.877). The Tigers on the other hand, went through Tom Brookens (a solid player and a fan favorite, but hardly an all star as he hit .246 for his career), Darnell Coles (had a solid 1986, but nothing much after that), Rick Schu (.214 as a starter in 1989), and Tony Phillips (utility man who played more at third then anywhere else) during Johnson’s peak years. It wasn’t until Travis Fryman in 1991 when the Tigers developed a regular, everyday third basemen.
But enough about my gripes. Here’s the the numbers on HoJo’s rookie season:
Runs Created 45
Batting Runs Above Replacement 13
Fielding Runs Above Replacement 6
Equalized Average .260
Wins Above Replacement Player 2.1
Scorecard – 1975 Reds 4, 1984 Tigers 0
September 29, 1984 Tigers 11, Yankees 3 (104-57)
With a strong offensive performance, and with only one game left in the season, the 1984 Detroit Tigers won their 104th game, setting the franchise record. The game was actually close for a while, but with the game tied 1-1, the Tigers scored five runs in the sixth to bust the game open. They added five more in the ninth to seal the game up.
Juan Berenguer pitched another nice game to improve to 11-10. He went six innings, giving up only one run on two hits. His six walks were a concern, but he pitched out out of a bases loaded jam in the second and the third innings to walk away with a winning record on the season. Roger Mason finished the game off, going three innings and earning his first career save.
It was a historic day for the franchise, and fitting for what most people feel was the greatest Tiger’s season of all time.
September 25, 1984 Tigers 9, Brewers 1 (102-55)
Four runs in the first inning put this game away pretty quickly as Howard Johnson hit a grandslam, his twelth of the season. Lance Parrish followed this with a solo shot in the third, and the Tigers coasted to their 102nd win of the season.
Sparky went with the kids on the mound, and Randy O’Neal improved to 2-0 by pitching five shutout innings, giving up only two hits, and striking out three. Sid Monge, Bill Scherrer, Aurelio Lopez, and Willie Hernandez pitched an inning a piece, with the Brewers tagging Lopez for a run in the eighth. In total, the Brewers only managed six hits against the five pitchers.
And now they stood one win short of the record 103 wins set by the 1968 team. With five games left, the record was definitely within reach.
September 19, 1984 Tigers 4, Brewers 2 (98-54)
Despite the rest of the regular season basically being meaningless, there were a few more things for the Tigers to play for. One hundred wins was within their reach. Only four times had the Tigers won a 100 games prior to the 1984 seasons, and they were all good ones. 1968, 1961, 1934, and 1915. They also had a shot at the 1968 Tiger’s record 103 wins.
Jack Morris took them one step closer to both of those marks with a strong performance. It was nice to see he pitched well down the stretch after an up and down season. Jack pitched six solid innings en route to his eighteenth win of the season untl the pen took over. Willie Hernandez pitched a shutout ninth inning to earn his thirty first save.
September 4, 1984 Orioles 4, Tigers 1 (88-51)
Captain Hook was true to form as Dave Rozema gave up back to back singles, a sac fly to Cal Ripken, and then a third single before Sparky pulled the plug early. Bill Scherrer came in to stop the damage, as he got the final two batters out.
Then Sparky went to rookie Roger Mason, who made his major league debut. Mason pitched all eight remaining innings, giving up only four hits and striking out six. Unfortunately one of those hits was a two run shot by Rick Dempsey.
With the loss, the Tigers lead was cut to 7 1/2 games. With an upcoming series against the Jays, things were looking pretty dicey and the fans had to have been a little worried.
August 30, 1984 Mariners 2, Tigers 1 (87-47)
Starters Jack Morris and Jim Beattie both took shutouts into the eighth inning before either scored. In the bottom of the eighth, the wheels came off the wagon for Morris though. Spike Owen led off with a walk. Then second basemen Jack Perconte laid down a bunt, and according to Retrosheet.org, Morris dove for the pop up, missed it, then three the ball into rightfield while sitting down. To make matters worse, Kirk Gibson then threw the ball into the Mariners dugout trying to throw Perconte out at third base. So the Mariners scored both of their runs without even getting a hit.
In all, Morris pitched a great game though. He went the distance, gave up only four hits, and struck out eight.
The Tigers tried to answer in the ninth. Barbaro Garbey drew a lead off walk before Chet Lemon grounded out. Larry Herndon then also drew a walk to put runners at first and second. Howard Johnson singled to load the bases, but Lou Whitaker struck out to leave it up to Alan Trammell. Tram came through by drawing a walk and driving in a run, but Kirk Gibson grounded to second to end the game.
August 28, 1984 Tigers 5, Mariners 4 (87-45)
Another great comeback win for the Tigers. With the game tied 1-1 going into the bottom half of the seventh, Juan Berenguer had runners on first and second with two outs, when Spike Owen reached base on a Howard Johnson error. The Mariners went on to score three unearned runs as a result of the mishap before newly acquired lefthander Bill Scherrer came in to get the final out.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to bounce back though, because in the top of the eighth, Ruppert Jones led off with a double. Dave Bergman then singled to leave runners at first and third. Barbaro Garbey flew out before Lou Whitaker drove in a run on a sacrafice fly. Then with Bergman on first, Alan Trammell hit a two run two out homer to tie the game.
Then in the top of the ninth, Darrell Evans got a two out single. Rusty Kuntz ran for Evans, who moved to second on a wild pitch by reliever Mike Stanton. John Grubb struck out, but with two outs, Ruppert Jones drove in Kuntz with a double to take the lead.
Willie Hernandez once again did his thing, as he pitched the eighth and ninth, giving up only one hit to improve to 8-2.
The day before, Bill Lajoie pulled the trigger and got Sparky another left handed arm in the pen. For cash and a player to be named later (eventually being Carl Willis), the Tigers acquired Bill Scherrer from the Reds. He’d give the Tigers a much needed extra option, as he ended up throwing 19 innings with an ultralow 1.89 ERA.
August 8, 1984 Red Sox 8, Tigers 0 (74-41)
An error by third basemen Howard Johnson led to five first inning unearned runs, as Glenn Abbott couldn’t get out of the first inning. Probably the strangest thing about the inning was Abbott struck out Wade Boggs.
August 7, 2004 Red Sox 12, Tigers 7 (73-40)
Jack Morris got pounded again. Coming off the heels of the best start he’s had in a while, Jack gave up six hits, two walks and nine runs 1 1/3 innings, forcing Sparky to go to the pen early. Bruce Hurst was hardly stellar, but when you’re given a seven run lead after two innings, there’s not much you can do to lose the game.
August 7, 1984 Tigers 7, Red Sox 5 (74-40)
Milt Wilcox cruised through the first six innings, and then gave up four runs in the seventh to give the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. As a precursor to the 1986 World Series debacle, Dave Bergman scored in the ninth on an error by firstbasemen Bill Buckner that sent the game into extra innings.
August 6, 1984 Tigers 9, Red Sox 7 (73-38)
Dan Petry didn’t have his best stuff, as he gave up six runs and eleven hits in only 4 2/3 innings, but Bob Ojeda was just as worse, as the Tigers scored six on the Red Sox starter as well. Aurelio Lopez pitched 2 2/3 to improve to 8-0, and Willie Hernandez picked up his 23rd save.
August 6, 1984 Red Sox 10, Tigers 2 (73-39)
A drubbing, plain and simple. Carl Willis got one batter before getting pulled, and Doug Bair didn’t much better. By the end of the fourth inning, the Tigers were down 9-1. Rookie starter Roger Clemens threw a solid eight innings, holding the Tigers to six hits while striking out nine.
July 21, 1984 Tigers 7, Rangers 6 (65-29)
Bullpen, Bullpen, Bullpen.
Tiger starter Glenn Abbott got shelled in the third inning, giving up five runs, and getting chased out of the game. But Sid Monge, who was used only sporadically up until this point, pitched four innings of three hit ball to let the Tigers come back.
The Tigers would get five big runs in the bottom of the fifth to finish off the Rangers. Ruppert Jones had a one run single, Chet Lemon a two run double, and Howard Johnson a two run single. Willie Hernandez pitched the eighth and ninth, giving up only one hit and earning his nineteenth save.
July 15, 1984 Tigers 6, Twins 2 (60-28)
Dave Rozema pitched six strong innings and Aurilio Lopez pitched 3 2/3 innings of one hit ball to earn his eleventh save of the season. The two pitchers each had five strikeouts.
Dave Rozema had some nice years for the Tigers, but never reached his full potential. In 1977, he was the Tigers Rookie of the Year after going 15-7 with a 3.09 ERA. The fact that he struck out only 92 batters in 218 1/3 innings sort of gave everyone a reflection that this first season might have been an anamoly. He finished eighth in the Cy Young voting that year, but he’d never reach double digits in wins again.
By 1984, Dave was near the end of his career. He did have a fine season, as all the Tigers seemed to do that year, playing the role of spot starter and long reliever for the Tigers. He pitched 101 innings, and racked up an impressive ERA of 3.74.
Lou Whitaker went four for five, and Darrell Evans hit had three RBIs and a homerun. Lemon, Bergman, and Howard Johnson all had two hits.
July 8, 1984 Rangers 9, Tigers 7 (57-27)
Doug Bair got his only start of the season, and basically got pummelled. Jack Morris was picked to pitch in the All Star Game, so Sparky had to let him have the day off on this Sunday game. Bair only lasted 2 2/3, and by the end of the third inning, the Tigers found themselves down seven to nothing. An inning later, and it was eight to two.
The Tigers made an attempt to come back, scoring four in the sixth and one in the seventh, but it just wasn’t enough. Chet Lemon went two for three with three RBIs, and Howard Johnson hit his eighth homer of the year, and drove in three.
Since starting 35-5, the Tiger’s went into the break still exactly 30 games above .500. So for an extended stretch, they were basically playing .500 ball. They still held a seven game lead, but it still didn’t seem like enough.
July 3, 1984 White Sox 9, Tigers 5 (55-24)
This one was pretty ugly. Jack Morris gave up eight runs on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings after the Tigers scored three runs in the first on a three run homer by Lance Parrish.
Hall of Famer Tom Seaver got the win for the White Sox. Near the end of a great career, Tom Seaver went 15-11 in 1984, and won 16 games the following year. In 1986, he pitched for the AL pennant winning Red Sox, but missed the post season, I think because of injury.
For those of you who have never picked up and at least flipped through Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, you’re definitely missing something. Pound for pound, there’s more baseball information in this book then any you’ll find. In it, Bill James lists Tom Seaver as the sixth best pitcher, but like Roger Clemens, mentions that you could put him into the number one spot because of the era he played in.
But the numbers he put up are astounding. 311-205, a career 2.86 ERA, a career 127 Adjusted ERA+. and a almost 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Tom finished in the top 10 in the Cy Young voting 10 times, and walked away with three awards. In 1971, he had an Adjusted ERA+ of 193. And his 61 shutouts puts him at seventh all time.
And he’d get the best of the Tigers on this day back in 1984. Ruppert Jones and Howard Johnson also had homeruns, and Kirk Gibson went two for three.
June 23, 1984 Tigers 5, Brewers 1 (51-18)
The Tigers got off to a quick start, scoring all five of their runs by the end of the third inning. Kirk Gibson hit his ninth homerun, and Howard Johnson hit his sixth (another three run shot).
Milt Wilcox pitched a gem, going eight innings and giving up only four hits. The Brewers didn’t score off of him until the eighth inning when Jim Gantner drove in Ed Romero on a sacrafice fly. Doug Bair pitched a perfect ninth to complete the combined four hitter.
At this point, the Tigers were still on pace to win close to 120 games. They’d hit a rough stretch in the middle of the season, but they were still drawing 40,000+ to a lot of their games, and the fans were definitely excited.
June 20, 1984 Tigers 9, Yankees 6, 13 innings (49-17)
The Tigers won a back and forth affair when Howard Johnson hit a three run shot in the bottom of the thirteenth inning. The Yankees had a 2-0 lead and a 4-2 lead before the Tigers picked up a few runs to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth, then took a one run lead in the bottom of the seventh. Then the two teams went back and forth, scoring one run each until the game ended regulation at a 6-6 tie.
Willie Hernandez pitched four strong innings of relief, and Doug Bair improved to 4-0 by pitching two innings of one hit ball. Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon all hit homer to go along with HoJo’s extra innings blast.
June 12, 1984 Blue Jays 12, Tigers 3 (44-15)
Jack Morris got shelled, plain and simple, and the pen followed suit with some equally bad pitching. This would be the most runs the Tigers would give up in a game all season (the twelve runs would eventually be matched in August, but not surpassed).
Three innings, eight hits, and six runs was the final line for Morris. By far his worst outing of the season. Sid Monge, who was picked up the day before, pitched four innings and gave up three runs. Even the reliable Aurilio Lopez gave up three runs in an eighth inning that didn’t mean too much.
Tiger’s hitting stars included Lou Whitaker, who went three for four with two RBIs. John Grubb went two for four, and Howard Johnson went two for three and scored twice. Chet Lemon was the only other player to get a hit.
This double header seemed liked a big win at the time, but it basically marked the point where the Tigers continued to widen the distance between themselves and Toronto. They’d come in with a 5 1/2 game lead, and left with a seven game lead. Toronto would pull a little closer in the next week, and pull to within six games in early July, but the 35-5 start gave the Tigers too strong of a base to start with.
June 10, 1984 Tigers 10, Orioles 4 Game 1 (42-14)
Another tough start by Glenn Abbott. He didn’t make it through the third, giving up seven hits and three runs through 2 2/3. At the end of the third, the game would be tied, but then the Tiger’s bats took over.
Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, and Kirk Gibson, the Tigers 1-2-3 hitters, were a combined 8 for 13. Lou Whitaker went three for four and scored five runs. Tram went two for four with a double and triple, had four RBIs, and scored twice. Kirk Gibson went three for five and chalked up four RBIs. Four Orioles errors led to five unearned runs.
Doug Bair went 3 1/3 of one hit ball to pick up his third win, and Willie Hernandez went three innings to chalk up his ninth save.
June 10, 1984 Tigers 8, Orioles 0 Game 2 (43-14)
This was a blow out, plain and simple. Dan Petry bounced back to throw a three hitter. Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, and Howard Johnson all had three hits, and Hojo hit his fourth homer of the year.
Nearly 52,000 fans showed up for the doubleheader.
June 8, 1984 Tiger 3, Orioles 2 (41-13)
The Tigers beat the Orioles in front of over 50,000 fans in a tight affair. Milt Wilcox threw six solid innings to win his seventh game, and the bullpen was stellar. In all, the Tiger’s staff only gave up six hits and three walks. Once Milt was taken out, Doug Bair threw a perfect seventh, and Willie Hernandez finished things out by pitching two strong innings to earn his eighth save.
The Tigers stranded ten baserunners again, but this time it didn’t cost them a win. With the score at 2-1, the Tigers scored two runs in the top half of the seventh on a double by Howard Johnson and a sacrafice fly by Alan Trammell.
June 6, 1984 Blue Jays 6, Tigers 3 (39-13)
The Tigers losing ways went on, as they had now dropped 8 of 12 since their fantastic start. Dan Petry got shelled, giving up 10 hits in four innings, and the Jays had five runs on the board before the Tigers got one across the plate.
Aurilio Lopez pitched four strong innings of relief to keep the Tigers in it, but like yesterday, they couldn’t get it done with men on base as they left 10 men stranded throughout the game. Venezuelan native Luis Leal improved to 6-0 for the Jays, which was impressive for a man with 58 career wins.
Lou Whitaker went three for four, and Howard Johnson went two for three.
At this stage of the season, the Tigers lead now stood at 3 1/2 games. They had basically blown their lead. We all know how this story ends, but at this point, there was some geniune concern. Fortunately for the Tigers, they’d go on a run, and this would be the closest the Jays would ever get.
June 4, 1984 Tigers 6, Blue Jays 3 (39-11)
A couple of big blasts by some unlikely players gave the Tigers round one of the season series with the Blue Jays. Starter Juan Berenguer pitched a decent but not great game, giving up three runs through 6 2/3. Willie Hernandez was the pitching star though. Even though he was brought in with a three run deficit, unheard of for a closer in this day, he got the Tigers out of a jam in the critical seventh inning. He ended up pitching three innings of shutout ball to help the Tigers earn the win.
The reason the seventh inning was critical was, in the bottom half, the Tigers came back. Third basemen Howard Johnson tied the game up with one swing of the bat by hitting a three run homer. The game would be tied at the end of nine, and in the bottom of the tenth, the Tigers struck again.
In Sparky Anderson’s book “Bless You Boys,” Sparky Anderson called it the greatest at bat in his life. Dave Bergman, the Tigers role player/backup firstbasemen came to bat with runners on first and second base and two outs. He worked to a full count against Roy Lee Howell, then according to Sparky, fouled off seven straight pitches. Then on the 13th pitch, Bergman hit what I remember as his most memorable homer of his career into the upper deck in right field.
Great relief pitching and timely hitting. The Tigers widened their lead to 5 1/2 games over the Jays, but they’d still have three more games left just in this series.
May 15, 1984 Tigers 6, Mariners 4 (28-5)
When your starter walks five, and your team makes three errors, you don’t usually expect to win. The Tigers almost blew a 6-1 lead in this one, but held on with some good relief pitching by Willie Hernandez.
Jack Morris notched his seventh win, but he walked five and gave up four runs. Willie Hernadez came into the game in the eighth, and was awesome. He struck out five of the six batters he faced, and earned his fifth save.
The Tigers bats showed some patience as they scored six runs on only five hits. They walked twelve times. Kirk Gibson drove in two without getting a hit (two sac. flies) and Howard Johnson had a two run single.
April 25, 1984 Tigers 9, Rangers 4 (15-1)
Dave Stewart didn’t make it out of the first inning in the Tiger’s Home Opener, and he didn’t fair too much better in this one as the Tigers finally got to him in the seventh inning. By the end of the game, the Tigers scored nine runs on thirteen hits.
John Grubb, Howard Johnson, and Lance Parrish all hit homeruns in this one. In fact Lance Parrish hit his second three run shot in as many games. Milt Wilcox went six innings, and Willie Hernandez finished the game by pitching the final three innings, as he picked up his second save of the season.
April 24, 1984 – Game 1 – Tigers 6, Twins 5 (13-1)
Jack Morris had his worst outing of the season so far, but managed to walk away with his fourth straight victory. He went the distance, giving up five runs on seven hits and five walks. But as was typical of this magical season, it was just enough as the Tigers won in dramatic fashion.
The Tigers entered the bottom of the ninth down 5-3. Kirk Gibson led off the inning with a triple. John Grubb then reached base on a fielder’s choice (and would leave the game as Rusty Kuntz would run for him). Dave Bergman then drove in Gibson with an RBI single, cutting the lead to one rune.
Then, the wheels really came off the wagon as relief pitcher Ron Davis would put one in the dirt, allowing the tying run to score on a wild pitch, and moving Bergman over to second. Howard Johnson grounded out to third, and with one out, Chet Lemon was given the intentional pass. Lance Parrish then lined out to second base.
So with two outs, and runners on first and second, Lou Whitaker singled, and drove in Bergman to win the game. Tigers Win 6-5!!!
April 24, 1984 – Game 2 – Tigers 4, Twins 3 (13-1)
Lance Parrish hit a three run homer in the fifth inning, and Aurelio Lopez shut the Twins down in the final three innings in the back end of the double header. Starter Dan Petry was forced to leave the game with a sore shoulder in the third.
Glenn Abbott took over in the fourth and gave up two runs in the top half of the sixth, but Parrish answered in the next inning with his three run shot.
Aurelio Lopez got the three inning save, as he pitched three shutout innings, giving up only one hit and two walks, while striking out three.
April 3, 1984 – Detroit 8, Twins 1 (1-0)
Jack Morris was about as impressive as a pitcher could be in an opening day appearance, pitching seven innings, while giving up only one run on five hits. All while striking out eight. The Tigers drew first blood in the third with a one run double by Howard Johnson, and a one run single by Tram. After scoring these two runs, the Tigers would never look back, as the only dent the Twins would be able to make was in the second half of the inning, when Twins put one on the board.
And what would become an trend all season, Aurelio Lopez pitched a perfect eighth, and Willie (Guillermo) Hernandez pitched a perfect ninth. It wouldn’t always be those same innings, but those two guys were the anchor of a great pen, and you’ll be seeing their names pop up quite often.
April 4, 1984 – Day Off (1-0)
April 5, 1984 – Tigers 7, Twins 3 (2-0)
Dan Petry gave up the lead early in this one (two runs in the second), but the Tigers bounced back by scoring one in the third and three in the fourth. Petry calmed, and ended up going seven. Willie Hernandez then did the job by pitching perfect eight and nine innings. Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson led the way on offense. Both hit homeruns (Gibby’s was a three run shot to put the Tigers up for good in the fourth), and Tram went three for four.
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