The Non-Sequiturs: Trick or Treat Edition

pumpkin.jpgEach October, I’m astounded to learn that Halloween is the second-largest retail holiday of the year. I’m not a fan of Halloween, though I do like the occasional, or frequent, Kit Kat.

It’s a treat to be able to watch the World Series on Halloween, though the Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria sightings are undoubtedly the “trick” part of the equation.

  • In our highest vote-gettin’ poll of the season, Fungo readers were emphatic on what the Tigers’ next offseason move should be: target Nationals’ slugger and free-agent-to-be Adam Dunn.

    Twenty-four percent (148 voters) of the 628 readers casting votes selected Dunn as their top choice. Here are the runners up:

    • Sign Jason Werth (16%, 103 Votes)
    • Sign Victor Martinez (15%, 97 Votes)
    • Trade for a starting pitcher (14%, 88 Votes)
    • Pickup Jhonny Peralta’s option (14%, 88 Votes)
    • Sign Magglio Ordonez (12%, 73 Votes)
    • Other (5%, 31 Votes)

    Thanks to everyone who voted and a special thanks for those that left comments. It was a great discussion. Keep those comments rolling in.

    Continue reading “The Non-Sequiturs: Trick or Treat Edition”

Remembering Ernie with a Fungo Flashback: “An E for the Day”

Like so many others, I started to write a post tonight about Ernie Harwell. Then I realized I’d already written everything I possibly could about him in a post on January 25, 2008 — Ernie’s 90th birthday. I wrote the following post in much better spirits than the ones in which I find myself tonight.


Opening Day 1979 was, like so many in Detroit, bitter cold. (How cold was it? Neither team held batting practice.) BaseballCandlesXSmall.jpgIt was the first Opener I’d ever attended but I remember it like it was the day before yesterday.

Not because the game was on a Saturday. Not because it was a blowout, 8-2 loss to the Rangers behind Ferguson Jenkins‘ complete game. (Johnny Grubb went 2 for 5 with a first-inning homer off starter and losing pitcher Dave Rozema.)

And not because Dan Gonzalez pinch hit for Alan Trammell (!!) in the bottom of the ninth, one of only 25 big-league at bats Gonzalez would ever get. (He flied out to right to end the game.) No, what I’ll always remember about that day was that I met today’s birthday boy, Ernie Harwell.

My brother, his friend Freddie and I were walking around the field in the lower deck when my brother spotted Ernie chatting it up with fans behind the Tigers dugout.ErnieHarwellAutograph.jpg We took our place in the makeshift line and Ernie signed my program.

(I have no idea where that signature ended up, but I take solace in the fact I have the one shown here from a signed copy of Ernie’s 1985 book Tuned to Baseball.)

I had the chance to ask a question and here’s what my nine-year-old bean came up with: Is Paul up in the booth?

Ernie replied that Paul Carey was, in fact, up in the booth preparing for the game and that he hoped I had fun at the ballpark that day. Talk about a thrill — even more thrilling than getting Jim Northrup‘s autograph at my annual baseball banquet later that year. And every year on Opening Day I think of it (Ernie’s signature, not Northrup’s).

As Ernie turns 90 today, we’re hearing countless tales from around Detroit. (Read this one.) Do you have a brush-with-Ernie’s greatness story? Share it here.

Even if you didn’t get a chance to meet him in person, given the number of games he called for us on the radio, doesn’t it feel like you did?

October Surprise Part 8 – Tigers Pull Ahead

On the next-to-last day of the 2009 season, with the Tigers’ fate still undecided, we continue our series on the Tigers’ and Blue Jays’ battle for the A.L. East crown on the next-to-last day of the 1987 season.


American League East Standings: October 3, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Detroit 96-64 .600 –
Toronto 96-64 .600 –

In game two of the final series, Jack Morris and Mike Flanagan faced off on a bright and blustery Saturday afternoon.

HotDogPopTicketXSmall.jpgAs they had in Toronto nine days earlier, the two veteran pitchers sparkled. The Jays grabbed an early 1-0 lead. The Tigers countered with a Mike Heath single and Bill Madlock double to knot the game. Both teams scored in the fifth.

But over the next seven innings neither team scored. Morris pitched nine strong innings to Flanagan’s 11.

“I’ve been in this league eight years facing Flanagan, and I’ve never seen him better,” Tom Brookens said to the Free Press‘s John Lowe.

Mike Henneman relieved Morris in the tenth and shut down the Jays. Jeff Musselman took over for Flanagan but couldn’t pick up where the starter had left off.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 8 – Tigers Pull Ahead”

October Surprise Part 7: Doyle Foils Jays to Knot Division Lead

The final weekend of the 2009 season is here and the Tigers are in position for the American League Central title. Twenty-two years ago tonight the Tigers started the final season with the A.L. East in their sights. Here’s part seven of our series.


American League East Standings: October 2, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 96-63 .604 –
Detroit 95-64 .597 1

Doyle.jpgOf all the scenarios facing the Tigers for the final weekend, one was the most cut and dried: sweep the Blue Jays, win the division.

Game one of the decisive series took place on a cold Friday night. A crowd of 45,167 witnessed a rematch of the previous Sunday, Doyle Alexander and Jim Clancy.

The Jays scored first in the top of the second on Manny Lee’s three-run homer to right-center. In the bottom of that same inning the Tigers scored two runs of their own on a Chet Lemon single and a home run by rookie outfielder Scott Lusader.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 7: Doyle Foils Jays to Knot Division Lead”

October Surprise Part 5: Setting the Bear Trap

As the Tigers and Twins wrap up the biggest series of the year with the division title hanging in the balance, we continue our look back on the last great race in Tigers history: 1987 and the seven games against the Toronto Blue Jays in the season’s final 10 days. Today: Game 4, the final game in Toronto.


American League East Standings: September 27, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 96-59 .619 –
Detroit 92-62 .597 3.5

As the Tigers arrived at Exhibition Stadium for the series finale, they knew what was at stake. The chances of coming back from four-and-a-half game deficit in less than a week bordered on the absurd. If ever there were a must-win game, this was it.

GoodMorning.jpgThe Tigers turned to Doyle Alexander to stop the bleeding. Toronto looked to right-hander Jim Clancy to bury the Tigers’ fading division title hopes.

Nelson Liriano led off the home half of the first with a single to right and promptly stole second. Eventual league MVP George Bell drove in Liriano for Toronto’s first run. Though he baffled the Jays for the next eight innings, Alexander and the Tigers trailed 1-0 heading into the top of the ninth.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 5: Setting the Bear Trap”

October Surprise Part 3: Game 2 Skips Away

As the Tigers and Twins square off for the biggest series of the year with the division title hanging in the balance, we continue our look back on the last great race in Tigers history: 1987 and the seven games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Today: Game 2.

Part 1October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title
Part 2Showdown in Toronto, Game 1


American League East Standings

September 25, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 94-59 .614 –
Detroit 92-60 .605 1.5

Tigers left hander Frank Tanana had been in one divisional race in his 14-year career: in 1979 when he helped the California Angels win their first American League West title. In 1987, Tanana approached the twilight of his career but Toronto starter Jimmy Key’s best days were just dawning. Key had won 14 games in each of his first two years as a starter and in 1987 he would finish second in A.L. Cy Young voting, posting a 17-8 record and 2.76 ERA.
BallBatGrass.jpg

For the second straight night, the Tigers produced a two-run lead. In the Tigers’ second, Chet Lemon doubled and Darrell Evans singled him home. Later, in the sixth, Kirk Gibson bunted for a base hit and took second on Key’s wild throw to first. Larry Herndon followed with a single to left scoring Gibson and giving Tanana a two-run cushion.

Tanana pitched one of his best games of the season throwing seven scoreless innings, yielding just five hits and a walk. Key was equally masterful in his 8.1 innings pitched. He scattered nine hits, allowing only one earned run and walking a single hitter. Going into the ninth inning the Tigers maintained a 2-0 lead.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 3: Game 2 Skips Away”

October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title

ViewFromOutfieldXSmall.jpgOver the next week, we’ll watch the Tigers and Twins play head-to-head to decide the American League Central.

While this plays out, let’s look back at the final two weekends of the 1987 season when the Tigers and Blue Jays squared off for seven heart-pounding, one-run games that would ultimately decide the American League East title.

Today, Part 1.


“I’m telling you, everything is going to come down to our seven games with Toronto.” — Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson, Sept. 21, 1987

Entering the 1987 season, little was expected of the Detroit Tigers. Just three seasons removed from a wire-to-wire championship season, the Tigers were considered mere also-rans in a division filled with potent lineups, solid pitching and the defending League Champions, the Red Sox.

Adding to an already challenging divisional landscape, the Tigers faced life without their All Star catcher and cleanup hitter, Lance Parrish. The Big Wheel rejected the Tigers’ two-year, $2.4 million contract offer and instead signed a one-year $800,000 deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s why in the first weeks of the 1987 season the story in baseball was not the Detroit Tigers. Hardly. The Milwaukee Brewers’ 13-0 start captivated the baseball world. After 13 games the Tigers had a less-imposing 6-7 record. Twenty games into the season Milwaukee had stormed to 18-2, four games ahead of New York, followed by Toronto (12-8), Baltimore (9-11), Detroit (8-12) and Cleveland (6-14).

Continue reading “October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title”

Looking Back on Doyle Alexander’s 1987 Shutout at Fenway Park

Doyle.jpgDan Dickerson was quick to point out that Justin Verlander’s shutout on Thursday was the first by a Tigers pitcher at Fenway Park since Doyle Alexander blanked the Red Sox in 1987. (Thanks to a tip from Fungo contributor Doug Hill, we went scrambling for the details.)

The Tigers were a half-game out of first place on Sept. 23, 1987, for the finale of a three-game series against Boston. Alexander, who blanked the Red Sox a week earlier, 3-0 at Tiger Stadium, faced off with lefty Bruce Hurst and was untouchable. He allowed singles to the first two batters he faced – Ellis Burks and Marty Barrett – and a two-out walk to Spike Owen in the second and that was it.

Alexander got two runs in the second and one each in the fifth and sixth. Tom Brookens drove in a pair and Alan Trammell knocked home one in the win. (The fourth run was scored on an error.) The Tigers moved on to Toronto for a grueling four-game series for ages against the Blue Jays.

You’ve got to love Baseball-Reference.com; I know I sure do.

Disco Demolition Night 30 Years Later

Disco guy.jpgYeah, so Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney ruined our night tonight. We’re used to that. Take heart. The Tigers still cling to first place.

Doesn’t do much for you? Me either.

So instead of cursing the Tigers bullpen, let’s travel back 30 years to July 12, 1979 and revisit Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, courtesy of Joe LaPointe‘s article in yesterday’s New York Times.

Unlike the commonplace pyrotechnics of Zumaya/Rodney, this doubleheader included the on-field destruction of disco albums between games. Then things got, well, unruly. As Alan Trammell sums it up:

“The outfielders were definitely a little scared and Ronnie (LeFlore) wasn’t usually afraid of anything.”

The thing I remember most about that game was watching Sox owner Bill Veeck limp out on the field with his wooden leg — I had no idea he lost an appendage — to beg the rock-and-rollers to get off the field (and keep their rainchecks!). And I can still hear George Kell trying to describe the action without falling into a “kids-these-days” rant. (Or did he? Does anyone else remember?)

Even Dave Dombrowski, then a 22-year-old gopher for White Sox GM Roland Hemond, had a role in keeping the peace.

Oh, as for the games, the Tigers swept the double-dip 4-1 in the opener and then won the nightcap in a 9-0 forfeit. The victories brought the Tigers within 14 games of the division lead.

What are your memories of Disco Demolition Night?

Happy Birthday, Tram

TramRookie.jpg Happy 51st to perhaps the classiest guy ever to wear the D.

Today’s also the birthday of two former Tigers pitchers:

  • Bill Slayback, a member of the 1972 A.L. East Division champs, turns 61. A seventh-round pick in the 1968 draft, he pitched three years in Detroit posting a 6-9 record and 3.84 ERA in 42 appearances. In his rookie year of ’72, Slayback (who wore number 44) appeared in 23 games (13 starts, three complete games) and notched a 5-6 record.

  • Jack Billingham turns 65 today. He won 25 games for the Tigers from 1978-80 and he did so wearing number 41. Did you know that Billingham is a cousin of Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson? For a funny Billingham vs. Kirk Gibson nugget, revisit this post from last year.