On this date in 1984: First loss of the year

From Baseball Reference:

1984 — The Detroit Tigers suffer their first loss of the season after nine consecutive wins. The Tigers fall to the Kansas City Royals and rookie Bret Saberhagen, who earns his first major league victory.

Final score: Royals 5 – Tigers 2. Interesting that Dan Petry gave up five runs and Sparky still let him pitch eight innings.

Gibby hit a solo shot off Dan Quisenberry in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. With the win, the Royals pushed their record to 6-6. Quisenberry earned saves in five of the wins.

Check out the boxscore.

March 10, 1983: George Kell elected to Hall of Fame

From Baseball Reference:

The Special Veterans Committee announces the election of Walter Alston and George Kell to the Hall of Fame. Alston managed the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles to four World Series championships, while always working under one-year contracts. Kell, a standout third baseman primarily for the Detroit Tigers, batted over .300 nine times, was a 10-time All-Star, and topped American League third basemen in fielding percentage seven times during a 15-season career.

Here’s my podcast interview with George Kell from 2007.

On this date in 1940, Hank gets a raise for moving to outfield

From Baseball-Reference.com:

1940 – The Detroit Tigers’ roster lists Hank Greenberg as an OF. The willingness of the team’s leading power hitter to switch, at a contract boost, from 1B allows manager Del Baker to find a position for Rudy York. Also on the list are Dick Bartell, picked up from the Chicago Cubs for Billy Rogell and Pinky Higgins, who had been shopped around. The four, along with Barney McCosky and Charlie Gehringer, produce the stuff that will move the Tigers from fifth to first, although its .588 mark will be as low as that of any pennant-winner yet.

That Tigers squad won 90 games, finishing a game ahead of the Indians. They also:

  • Led the American League in hitting with a .286 average
  • Led the league in attendance at 1,112,693
  • Lost a seven-game World Series to the Reds, dropping Game 7 by a score of 2-1

Not a bad year for a lowly 90-win team.

The day Gibby left town

I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was that Kirk Gibson left the Tigers for the Dodgers as a free agent in 1988. Not only had there been rumors of a one-for-one trade in place for L.A.’s slugging first baseman Pedro GuererroLance Parrish also left as a free-agent, about a year before.

Yeah, but still.

The day Gibby signed a three-year, $4.5 million contract with the Dodgers was the day I finally understood the “baseball-is-a-business” thing was legit. (And, my God, two years later Jack Morris would leave and then I’d really had it. )

Jan. 29, 1988 was the end of an era for Detroit baseball, but we didn’t know it. Or maybe most fans did; I certainly didn’t. I wanted to believe the 1988 Tigers would be okay — no better, no worse — than the ’87 team. I mean, after all, they traded for Ray Knight.

Ahem.

The Gibson that rejoined the Tigers in 1993 was nowhere near the one that left five years earlier, but it still seemed right that he came back to end his career in Detroit.

But still.

Happy Birthday, Tito Fuentes

Tito Fuentes

  • Born: January 4, 1944 in Havana, Cuba.
  • Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 23, 1977
  • Height: 5′ 11″ Weight: 175 lb.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 1 (1977)
  • Uniform Number: 3, 44
  • Stats: .309 avg., 5 HR, 51 RBI, .745 OPS

When the Tigers sought a player to oversee second base until Lou Whitaker was ready, they could have done a lot worse than Rigoberto “Tito” Fuentes.

Offensively, that is. TitoFuentes

The switch-hitting 33 year old trailed only Ron LeFlore‘s team-leading .325 average that season but was brutal in the field. He led all American League second baseman with 26 errors, and posted a .970 fielding percentage. Fans that remember Fuentes’ brief stop in Detroit are more likely to recall his signature bat flip when he approached the plate, tapping the bat handle on the plate, flip it up and catch the handle. This was a move widely imitated during Wiffle Ball games in my neighborhood, and probably others around Detroit, too.

After his one season with the Tigers, his contract was purchased by the Expos, who promptly released him in Spring Training in 1978. The Tigers were ready to hand second base to Whitaker but picked up infielder Steve Dillard just in case. Upon Fuentes’ departure, Jim Campbell had some interesting things to say in the Associated Press story:

“I’m not going to knock Tito,” said Tigers General Manager Jim Campbell. “He did a good job for us, especially offensively. (snip) “Dillard does some things better than Tito,” Campbell said. “He’s a better fielding second baseman than Tito, he covers more ground. And he runs better than Tito did.”

Good thing Campbell didn’t want to knock him.

Of course, the truth about Fuentes’ brief tenure in Detroit is probably somewhere in this paragraph from the AP story:

There also had been reports that he was haggling with Campbell over a new contract. Fuentes’ salary demands were reported to be in the $200,000 range.

And there you go.

Just ask Rusty Staub or Steve Kemp how receptive Campbell was to salary “demands.”

Fuentes spent the 1978 season, his last in the majors, with the A’s.

Oh, and if you were curious whether Dillard’s range and fielding were better: they weren’t. His fielding percentage of .958 was 12 points worse. But at least he was a better runner.