AP NEWS
Related topics

Ten Years After Tigers Won it All, Sparky Recalls His Torment

February 19, 1994

DETROIT (AP) _ What should have been a manager’s dream turned into sheer torment for Sparky Anderson in 1984. It was one of the few times he wished he had kept his mouth shut.

When he came to Detroit in 1979, Anderson had promised the Tigers would win a championship within five years. In 1984, it was time to deliver.

The Tigers jumped off to a 35-5 start and became only the third team in baseball to hold down first place the entire season. They set a club record with 104 victories, swept Kansas City in the American League playoffs and needed just five games to dispatch the San Diego Padres in the World Series.

Night after night, victory after victory, Al Ackerman, the acerbic sports anchor at Detroit’s WDIV-TV, would intone, ″Bless you boys 3/8″ after each Tigers report. It became the catch phrase.

Now, how could such a year be hard on the manager?

″It was total misery for me, it really was,″ Anderson says. ″We jumped out to a 35-5 start and everybody thought it was over. I knew better. I knew it wasn’t over. But, I also knew I had to do it. I had done that to myself.″

It was obvious in 1983 that the Tigers were on the prowl. They won 92 games that season, but finished second in the AL East, six games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

A week after the season ended, pizza magnate Tom Monaghan bought the team. Business was good for Domino’s and Monaghan had money to spend. He opened his checkbook to sign Darrell Evans, the Tigers’ first big-bucks free agent.

Evans joined a strong nucleus. Eleven players on the 1984 team came up through the Tigers’ farm system. They included pitchers Jack Morris and Dan Petry, infielders Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Tom Brookens and Howard Johnson, catcher Lance Parrish, and outfielder Kirk Gibson.

The final pieces fell into place during the last week of spring training, when general manager Bill Lajoie traded John Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Willie Hernandez and backup first baseman Dave Bergman.

″I thought that was the dumbest move I’d ever seen,″ Brookens says. ″I’d never heard of those guys. I couldn’t understand giving up two proven players like Wockenfuss and Wilson. Shows you how smart I am.″

Still, there was no hint the Tigers had become a powerhouse. In a typical Sparky spring, they broke camp with an 11-17 exhibition record. But it was all business when the bell rang April 3 in Minnesota.

Evans hit a three-run homer in the season opener against the Twins and hit a solo homer in the third game, at Chicago. The next day, in the fourth game of the season, Morris pitched a no-hitter and Chet Lemon hit a two-run homer in a 4-0 win over the White Sox.

The Tigers were on their way.

″We always felt we were going to win,″ Bergman says. ″That’s not pressure. That’s confidence. We always knew we were going to win.

″That was a fantastic feeling. I still think of it once in a while.″

What made it perhaps more remarkable was the absence of a clear-cut star. No pitcher won 20 games. No batter had 100 RBIs.

″It was just one of those seasons when everybody pitched in,″ Brookens says. ″Any time we needed a lift, somebody would do something to win us a ballgame.″

They got to 35-5 with a 5-1 win at California on May 24. Morris pitched a complete game, pushing his record to 9-1. It gave the Tigers a 17-0 road record, tying a major league record set by the 1916 Giants.

The next day they arrived in Seattle and lost three straight.

″I remember getting a standing ovation from a small weekday crowd at Anaheim after the 17th road win,″ Trammell says. ″That was quite a feeling. It was a dream year. It was unbelievable.″

Everybody played a part. Some examples:

- Veteran outfielder Ruppert Jones, who signed a minor league contract, was called up June 6. He hit a three-run homer the next day in a comeback 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Jones hit .284 the rest of the season with 12 home runs and 37 RBIS. He had six game-winning RBIs.

- Bergman, in one of the finest at-bats of all time, hit a three-run homer in the 10th inning to beat Toronto 7-4 on Sept. 7, mirroring a feat he pulled in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays on June 4.

- Randy O’Neal got his first major league win and Hernandez his 30th save Sept. 18 as the Tigers clinched the AL East with a 3-0 win over Milwaukee. Brookens hit a solo homer in that game.

″If we hadn’t won the World Series, all those things would have been forgotten,″ Trammell says. ″All those feats wouldn’t have been meaningful. We stayed focused.″

John Grubb’s two-run double in the 11th won the first playoff game. Marty Castillo’s infield grounder drove in Chet Lemon for a 1-0 win that eliminated the Royals in the second game.

Larry Herndon’s two-run homer lifted the Tigers to a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the World Series. Castillo, a .234 hitter, hit a game-winning homer in Game 3. Trammell hit two homers in Game 4.

And Gibson had two homers in Game 5, including the memorable eighth-inning shot off relief ace Goose Gossage that brought out all the animal energy stored in Detroit. Taxis were overturned and torched in the bedlam outside Tiger Stadium. There were many injuries, even one death.

Gibson could not know it would turn ugly. He was a picture of pure joy as he circled the bases.

″The home run, what I remember most, is running around the bases in the stadium, seeing the people go crazy, the feeling that it was over, that we were in fact going to be the world champs, and how far we’d come as a team,″ says Gibson, who leaped and roared as he stomped back to the dugout like an unleashed stallion after crossing the plate.

Few remember that Rusty Kuntz, pinch-hitting for Grubb, actually had the game-winning RBI in that game, a bloop sacrifice fly that allowed Gibson to score the go-ahead run in the fifth. Who cared?

The rumble at Michigan and Trumbull brought too much joy to the Tigers. And nobody was happier than Sparky Anderson.

He had become the first manager in major league history ever to win 100 or more games with two different teams, and the first to win a World Series championship in both leagues.

″It was just a crazy, wild, confused year as far as I was concerned,″ he says. ″Everything that had to happen, happened.″

END ADV for Weekend Editions Feb 19-20

AP RADIO
Update hourly