Sept. 18, 1984: Tigers Clinch American League East Title

On this date in 1984, the Tigers clinched the American League East title, beating the Brewers 3-0.

Randy O’Neal pitched seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out six. As he often did, Willie Hernandez earned a two-inning save, his 30th of the year.

Tom Brookens hit a solo homer off Brewers’ starter Bob McClure. Lance Parrish drove in Detroit’s other two runs.

If you want to take a deep dive into the ’84 club, pickup a copy of Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish! from Amazon.com. (Disclosure: I wrote the bios of Rusty Kuntz, Johnny Grubb, Chet Lemon and Carl Willis that appear in the book.)

Today’s Tiger: Jason Thompson

Jason Thompson

  • Born: July 6, 1954 in Hollywood, Calif.
  • Bats: Left Throws: Left
  • Height: 6′ 4″ Weight: 200 lb.
  • Acquired: Drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1975 amateur draft.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 5 (1976-80)
  • Uniform Number: 30
  • Stats: .256 avg., 98 HR, 354 RBI, .779 OPS
  • Awards: Three-time All Star (1977, ’78 and ’82)

JasonThompson.jpg
On May 27, 1980, Tigers GM Jim Campbell traded my favorite player, first baseman Jason Thompson, to the California Angels for outfielder Al Cowens.

The Hollywood native joined the Tigers full time in 1976 and played 123 games that year, hitting .218, with 17 home runs and 54 RBI. Two of the homers cleared the rightfield roof at Tiger Stadium. It was in 1977, though, that he made his mark: .270, 31 homers and 105 RBI — and earned an All Star Game selection.

Continue reading “Today’s Tiger: Jason Thompson”

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 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”

Kemp for Lemon Revisited

Twenty six years ago today the Detroit Tigers traded left fielder Steve Kemp to the White Sox for Chet Lemon. It was the quintessential Jim Campbell Winter Meetings trade.

Kemp made too much money and former GM Campbell didn’t like players who held out (Rusty Staub) or won in arbitration (Kemp, again). Campbell also liked to trade players who, like Kemp and Ron LeFlore in 1979, were entering their walk year.

On Nov. 27, 1981, the Tigers and White Sox swapped outfielders both who were former top selections in the amateur draft (Lemon by Oakland in 1972, Kemp number-one overall by Detroit in 1976), were roughly the same age and who had put together similar careers to that point.

While many Tigers fans might remember Lemon as an All-Star centerfielder who hit sixth or seventh in Sparky‘s lineup, in his first season in Detroit he batted leadoff 49 times and played 93 games right field. (By early July, Lou Whitaker took over the leadoff spot for good.) It wasn’t until 1983 that he switched positions with Kirk Gibson and became the regular centerfielder…until Gary Pettis arrived in 1988. Lemon finished his first season as a Tiger with a .266 average, 19 HR and just 52 RBI in 125 games.

Lemon hit 142 homers for the Tigers in his nine seasons in Detroit and proved to be a rather durable player averaging 134 games played over that span. (Note: There’s no record of the number of rallies Lemon killed in Detroit but would it be far-fetched to think the total to be in the triple digits?)

Steve Kemp was no slouch during his five years patrolling left field at Tiger Stadium. He produced a .284 average, 89 home runs (lowered a bit with his nine homers in the strike-shortened 1981 season), and averaged 84 RBI and 23 doubles. He also displayed a keen eye at the plate averaging 75 walks — including 97 in 1978.

In his only season in Chicago, Kemp had a career year batting .286 with 19 HR and 98 RBI in 160 games. As I noted, Lemon also hit 19 home runs in 1982 but drove in nearly half the number of runs.

After the ’82 season Kemp cashed in on a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees but he, like so many other mid-’80s free agents, flopped in the Bronx. In 1983, Kemp hit .241 with just 12 home runs in 109 games. After the ’84 season he was traded with Tim Foli and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Dale Berra, Alfonso Pulido and Jay Buhner.

An eye injury, suffered when Kemp was hit by a batted ball in batting practice, shortened his career in the mid-1980s. He last played in the majors in 1988 when he played in 16 games for the Texas Rangers, hitting just .222 in 36 at bats. His career batting average in 11 seasons was .278 — five points higher than Lemon’s.

When Jim Campbell pulled the trigger on the Kemp-for-Lemon deal he probably had no idea that Kemp would flame out and that Chet the Jet would play more than 1,100 games in the outfield for Detroit.

Still, he had to like the odds that the trade would work out better than LeFlore for Dan Schatzeder.

As frustrating a player as Chester Earl Lemon could be, he was nothing if not reliable during some fun summers for Tigers fans.