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”

20 Years Later, a Tigers Player Again Comes Up Short in MVP Award

The chances of the Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez winning the American League Most Valuable Player award seem to dwindle every time Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate.

This certainly should not be the case. Ordonez brings these monster stats to the ballpark this afternoon:

  • .360 batting average
  • 53 doubles
  • 28 home runs
  • 137 RBI
  • .431 on-base percentage
  • .592 slugging percentage
  • 1.023 on-base plus slugging percentage

Still, he’s not likely to win the MVP.

A crime? Yes. But only a misdemeanor. When you take a look at A-Rod’s eye-popping numbers through Friday night, you’ll see the main reason why he’s going to win:

  • .309 average
  • 30 doubles
  • 53 home runs
  • 151 RBI
  • .418 on-base percentage
  • .637 slugging percentage
  • 1.064 on-base plus slugging percentage
  • Plays on a playoff team

The Baseball Writers Association of America, the voters of all post-season awards, will likely select A-Rod as the MVP because he’s on a playoff team. That’s because the BBWAA loves winners, plain and simple.

Most of the time.

In 1987, the Cubs’ Andre Dawson took home the National League MVP. The Cubs record? 76-85 good for last place in the N.L. East, 18-1/2 games out.

So much for the winners thing.

That same season, Alan Trammell‘s MVP-caliber year failed to measure up to that of Toronto’s George Bell—at least in the minds of the writers. Bell put together a phenomenal year. But, unlike Trammell, he failed to deliver when it counted: with his team’s season on the line. We’ll get to that shortly.

One can argue that Ordonez’s season, backed by a stratospheric batting average, shouldn’t be dismissed merely because the Tigers won’t be playing in the postseason and because Rodriguez and the Yankees will. Let’s face it: that’s going to be the reason Ordonez doesn’t win.

While it’s not the first time we’ve heard this argument, it wasn’t applied in 1987.

Looking at the final 11 games of the 1987 season, Trammell appeared to have pulled ahead of Bell for the MVP award. Over that span—in which Detroit played seven thrilling, one-run games against Bell’s Blue Jays—Trammell hit .381 with two homers and six RBI. More impressive was his performance in the seven games against Toronto: .417, one home run and four RBI. In fact, Trammell delivered the game-winning hit in the eleventh inning on the next-to-last game of the season, a win that put the Blue Jays on the brink of a historic collapse.

As for Bell, his ’87 campaign didn’t end quite as impressively. In his final 10 games, including three games at home against the Brewers, Bell batted a modest .250 with no home runs and just two RBI. In the final series against the Tigers in Detroit, Bell hit an anemic one-for-11 with no RBI.

In the end, and despite a career year, Trammell narrowly lost out to Bell in the MVP voting. Bell captured 16 first-place votes to Trammell’s 12 in one of the closest ballots in baseball history. Trammell and the Tigers advanced to the A.L. Championship Series; Bell went home to San Pedro de Macoris.

The BBWAA loves winners? Not so much. At least not in 1987.

Twenty years later, Tigers fans will find themselves holding out hope the BBWAA will see Ordonez’s 2007 campaign as superior to A-Rod’s.

Chances are, Ordonez will find himself in the same position as Trammell in ’87 and Cecil Fielder in 1990 and 1991: long on stats, short on hardware.