Today’s Tiger: Mickey Stanley

Mickey Stanley

  • Born: July 20, 1942 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Acquired: Signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1961
  • Seasons in Detroit: 15 (1964-78)
  • Uniform Numbers: 49, 24
  • Stats: .248 avg., 117 HR, 500 RBI, .675 OPS
  • Awards: 4 Gold Gloves (1968-70, 1973)

MickeyStanley.jpgFor many fans, Mickey Stanley’s defining moment with the Tigers came in the 1968 World Series when manager Mayo Smith shifted him from the outfield to shortstop — a position he’d played only in nine major-league games.

The move was made specifically to keep Al Kaline in the lineup while adding some pop to the ’68 team’s woeful production at shortstop. Ray Oyler played most at short that year (111 games) but hit just .135, while backups Tom Matchick and Dick Tracewski combined hit an anemic .180.

In his terrific bio on Stanley, which appears in the 2008 book Sock It to ‘Em Tigers, Jerry Nechal sums up the new shortstop’s performance in the Series against the Cardinals:

Obviously a quick learner, Stanley went on to amaze the baseball world in the Series. In the first inning of Game 1 he was tested by a leadoff ground ball off the bat of the speedy Lou Brock. Brock was out on a close play and Mickey’s fielding at shortstop became a nonfactor. He successfully handled 30 of 32 chances, making two inconsequential errors.

Mickey Stanley broke in with the Tigers on September 13, 1964, singling in his first at bat off Claude Osteen, and appeared in just four games that season. He played in 30 games the following season before making the big club out of Spring Training in 1966, and soon became a fixture in centerfield for the Tigers until a speedy rookie Ron LeFlore took over in the mid-’70s.

My greatest memory of Stanley comes from Aug. 10, 1977, the first Tigers game I ever attended. The starting pitcher for the Tigers was rookie Jack Morris who would pitch 7.2 innings on the way to his first major-league win, but he wouldn’t have gotten the win that night without a dazzling play by Mickey Stanley with two out in the ninth inning.

With Von Joshua at first, Cecil Cooper stood at the plate as the potential tying run. He launched a pitch from Steve Foucault deep to right field and from my lower deck seats on the first base side, it looked like it would indeed tie the game. Instead, Stanley timed his jump and took away a home run, securing a 5-3 win for the Tigers — and Morris.

And it took no time for me to decide who my favorite Tigers were.

Mickey Stanley retired after the 1978 season, his 15th, after playing in 1,516 games — all with the Tigers. According to Nechal’s biography, today Stanley lives in the Brighton, Mich., area.

Anderson’s Passing Sparks Memories Aplenty

SparkyAutograph.jpgI can clearly remember the bright June day in 1979 when the Tigers fired their manager of only two months, Les Moss, and replaced him with Sparky Anderson, who was fired from the Reds the previous winter.

Upon hearing the news on WJR I ran over to the playground where my brother was playing basketball to tell him the news. He wasn’t as excited as I was, but he was happy the Tigers went after a big-name manager. In fact, Sparky was the first star coach or manager hired by any Detroit team.

By hiring Sparky, at least to my then 11-year-old mind, the Tigers were going to be good at last. Finally, I told my Dad, a good manager. He was quick to remind me that a manager is only as good as his players and that the Tigers “didn’t have the horses” to compete in the American League East.

Long-time first-base coach Dick Tracewski managed the Tigers for a few days until Sparky would arrive. Through some twist of fate I can’t recall, I ended up attending Sparky’s first game with the Tigers — sitting in the deepest part of the upper deck in right field. When Sparky ran out with the lineup card he received a standing ovation.

For the first few games in a Tigers uniform, he wore number seven but soon changed it to 11 because he said that seven was Mickey Mantle‘s number and added, “I ain’t no Mickey Mantle.”

(To this day it’s a crime that the Tigers haven’t retired his number. But Ian makes this case better than I.)

The 1984 season will always be remembered as Sparky’s enduring gift to Detroit and to Tigers fans everywhere. But for me, the 1987 season was just as thrilling in many ways. After 30 games the club was just 11-19 and looked tired. Then they woke up and hung around the top of the A.L. East before sweeping the Blue Jays during the final weekend of the season to win the division.

A few years later I sneaked into the Tigers’ Winter Caravan in Kalamazoo and asked Sparky about that ’87 team. “Of all the teams I’ve managed, that’s the one I’m most proud of,” he said. “No one gave us a chance and we shocked them all.”

People say that by winning the World Series in ’84 Sparky got a lifetime pass in Detroit. There’s probably some truth to that. After all, the Tigers’ record from 1985-95 was just 852-864 — not dazzling but not enough to get Sparky Anderson fired. That just wasn’t going to happen in Detroit.

When he left Detroit, I suspected Sparky would have one more managerial job. I thought maybe the Dodgers or Angels or Padres would call at some point. They didn’t and as a result he enjoyed his retirement in Thousand Oaks, Calif., playing golf and, as he always said, being in his pajamas by 7 p.m.

Since he was hired in 1979, Detroit has had many star coaches — Chuck Daly, Scotty Bowman, Steve Mariucci, Larry Brown, Jacques Demers — but none were brighter nor beloved more than the first.

Remembering the Les Moss Era

When you search for “raw deal” on Google, the first entry is for the 1986 film by the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold and Darren McGavin.

Twenty-nine years ago Les Moss got a raw deal in his second big-league managing job.Moss_Les

Yes, second. He managed the 1968 White Sox for just 36 games, going 12-24.

In 1979, John Lester Moss took over for the retired Ralph Houk as Tigers manager. Moss had been in the Tigers farm system managing the Triple-A Evansville (Ind.) Triplets in the American Association and it was, I guess, his turn.

Moss managed the Tigers for just 53 games in ’79. Detroit sat at a 27-26, on the morning of June 14. Before Moss could order lunch, he was out of a job and Sparky Anderson was the Tigers’ new manager. (Officially, first base coach Dick Tracewski was the interim manager. Trixie led the Tigers to a 2-0 record before Sparky took over.)

So the Moss Era was over before it even began. The managing era, that is.

Did you know that Les Moss had a 13-year career as a catcher in the majors? He debuted in 1946 as a 21-year-old with the St. Louis Browns. He played in just a dozen games that year but finished a .371 average.

A review of his year-by-year stats show one thing: he was ridiculously inconsistent. For example:

  • 1947: 96 games, .157 avg.
  • 1948: 107/.257
  • 1949: 97/.291
  • 1950: 84/.266
  • 1951: 87/.193

…and so on. What else?

  • He never hit more than 14 homers in a season
  • His career average was .247; career OBP: .333

Though he didn’t hang around Detroit for very long, Les Moss is another player in the Tigers’ rich history.

Today the Tulsa native turns 83.

**Update: Moss passed away Aug. 29, 2012.