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 (Disclosure: I wrote the bios of Rusty Kuntz, Johnny Grubb, Chet Lemon and Carl Willis that appear in the book.)

Just Released: “Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish!”

A few years ago, I was offered a chance to contribute to a book about the 1984 World Series Champion Tigers – the team of my high school years and a team for the ages.

What an incredible experience it was to write four player biographies for the book and, along the way, talk with two former Tigers that played crucial roles for that club.

If you’d have told me in 1984 that some day I’d talk on the phone with Johnny Grubb or I’d sit in the Royals’ spring training clubhouse talking to Rusty Kuntz, I’m not sure I could’ve conjured up a plausible scenario where those events would’ve come together.

From the book’s cover:

Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish!, an effort by the society of American Baseball research’s BioProject Committee, brings together biographical profiles of every Tiger from that magical season, plus those of field management, top executives, the broadcasters — even venerable Tiger Stadium and the city itself. A team of more than 40 writers and editors compiled the biographies and supporting essays that make up the most comprehensive look at this remarkable team.

Order the book for yourself or for a Tigers fan that wants to relive a magical season.

(For what it’s worth, I don’t get a commission on any sales.)

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?

Talking with Johnny Grubb, Part II

JohnnyGrubb2.jpgThis is the second and final installment of my conversation with former Tigers outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Johnny Grubb. You can find the first installment here.

Mike McClary: Heading into the 1984 season, was it a long off-season? It would seem like you would be chomping at the bit to get back on the field shortly after a little break. Was everyone coming into spring training raring to go?

Johnny Grubb: Yeah, I think so. I remember us getting Dave Bergman and Willie [Hernandez]. So they came over, and they fit right in with the team, too. I mean, we just had a good group of guys that got along, and Dave Bergman is a heck of a guy and so was Willie. So it worked out great.

MMc: Let’s talk about the ’84 season in general. Obviously, you got off to a great start, 9-0, and in the middle of that, Jack Morris throws a no-hitter. As you were getting older and becoming the seasoned veteran, were you really just enjoying about every moment of that season?

JG: Oh, gosh, yeah. It was fun to watch those guys play and every once in a while to jump in and do something myself. But it was a lot of fun watching Gibby and Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker and Darrell [Evans] — and Lance did a great job. And Howard Johnson had the great season for us. I thought he did a great job. And Larry Herndon and all those guys really did well in the pitching.

So really what I remember most about it is that I never really felt like we were out of any ballgame. Any lead a team could get, we felt like we could have a big inning and jump right back in the game. And we had real good pitching, so if we had the lead, we had Willie and [Aurelio] Lopez coming in to shut the door on them. The pitchers did their job, and the hitters did their job. And we just felt like we could win any game.

That 35-5 start really helped a lot, too. But I think that pretty much was an indicator of how strong we were because that’s pretty phenomenal when you think about a 35-5 start in the major leagues. That’s pretty good.

Continue reading “Talking with Johnny Grubb, Part II”

Talking with Johnny Grubb – Part I

GrubbSteaks.jpgYesterday was Johnny Grubb‘s 60th birthday. Yes, 60th. I recently had the pleasure of talking with him while doing research for SABR’s book on the 1984 Tigers. (I’ve written the biographies of both Grubb and outfielder Rusty Kuntz.) We spoke about his entire career and focused a lot, of course, on the ’84 team.

In honor of Johnny Grubb’s birthday, here’s the first of two installments of the discussion. Beginning with the trade that brought him to the Tigers from the Rangers for reliever Dave Tobik.

Mike McClary: What was your mindset coming to Detroit in 1983?

Johnny Grubb: Well, [Rangers manager] Doug Rader called me in his office in spring training when I was with Texas and he told me that they had made a trade.

He used to call me Grubsteaks. He said, ‘Grubsteaks, you’re going to like where you’re going.’ I said, ‘where’s that?’ And he said, ‘Detroit.’

And, of course, if you get traded, that would be a good team to go to because we knew they were strong and getting better each year and right on the verge of being a real, real good ball club. So I was happy to go there.

MMc: Did you know anything about the team in terms of who your new teammates were going to be or Sparky’s reputation?

JG: I knew Sparky’s reputation as a manager from playing against him in the National League. And then, of course, they did have a boy on the team, Mike Ivie, that goes back to when I played minor league ball. He was a teammate of mine, and he was a player with Detroit then. So I was going into a ball club there that at least I knew one guy real well.

Continue reading “Talking with Johnny Grubb – Part I”