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.)

2012 Top 10 Stories: #1 – Miguel Cabrera’s Monster Season

How thick is the lens in a pair of Oakley sunglasses? I don’t own the instruments to determine the precise measurement but I think it’s safe to say thick enough to not only protect Miguel Cabrera‘s eye but sturdy enough to save his season, possibly his career, and almost assuredly make a Triple Crown season possible.

imagescabrerahead.jpgIn my lifetime, the Tigers haven’t had a player like Cabrera – or anyone close  for that matter. Even the best players I grew up watching Jason Thompson, Steve Kemp, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson and Cecil Fielder, rarely assembled a season in any one offensive category that compares to what Cabrera did in three of the biggest in 2012.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a rundown of the countless ways he demolished major-league pitching (courtesy of the Tigers postseason media notes). Cabrera:

  • Led the American League with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI to become the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967. It marked the 14th time since 1900 a player captured the Triple Crown and Cabrera is the 12th player to accomplish the feat during that time. He’s the second Tigers player to do so, joining Ty Cobb (1909). He also joined Cobb by winning the A.L. batting title for the second straight season. The Peach did it in three straight seasons, from 1917-19.
  • Topped the American League with 377 total bases, 84 extra-base hits and a .606 slugging percentage, while he finished second with 109 runs scored and 205 hits, fourth with a .393 on-base percentage and seventh with 40 doubles.
  • Became the first Tigers player to connect for 40-or-more home runs in a season since Cecil Fielder hit 44 in 1991. It marks the 10th time in club history a Tigers player has hit 40-or-more home runs in a season and Cabrera is the sixth player in franchise history to do so. What’s more, he became the first player in Tigers history to belt 30-or-more home runs in five straight seasons.
  • Collected 139 RBI during the season, marking the fifth straight season he has posted 100-or-more RBI for the Tigers – he became only the third player in Tigers history to collect 100-or-more RBI in at least five straight seasons. Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann drove in 100-or-more runs in seven straight seasons (1923-29), and Charlie Gehringer did so in five straight seasons (1932-36).
  • Finished with 40 doubles and 44 home runs during the season, joining Hank Greenberg as the only two players in Tigers history to collect 40-or-more doubles and 40-or-more home runs during the same season. Greenberg accomplished the feat for Detroit in both 1937 and 1940.
  • Knocked 205 hits during the season, marking the first time he has finished with 200-or-more hits during a season – he became the 21st player in Tigers history to collect 200-or-more hits during a season.
  • Recorded 377 total bases during the season, marking the fifth straight season he has posted 300-or-more total bases for the Tigers – he became the first player in club history to post 300-or-more total bases in five consecutive seasons.

To the chagrin of many, this not only added up to a Triple Crown, it was the case for Cabrera winning the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award. His 2012 season might never be duplicated by a Tigers player – unless Cabrera himself matches it. For me, regardless of whether his award-winning season was universally acclaimed, it was thrilling to watch day in and day out and it is easily the top Tigers story in 2012.

And to think if not for a thin plastic lens we might not have witnessed it at all.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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”

Same Time, Next Year for Me, Morris and the Hall of Fame

It’s early January which means I have to write a post about how I’ll hold out hope that Jack Morris will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gobs of articles have been written in the past couple of weeks, the majority of which put The Cat squarely in the “great but not Hall-of-Fame great” category.

Sadly, many of them, such as this one by Joe Posnanski, make terrific arguments against Morris’ chances. Even sadder, I’m starting to believe them. As a result I’m resigned to the fact he won’t be elected this year, if ever.

But wait! I have some anecdotes of my own:

In the summer of 2008 I attended the SABR Convention in Cleveland and asked former Indians outfielder Rick Manning if he thought Morris belonged in Cooperstown. He hemmed and hawed and eventually said, “That’s a tough call.” I took it as a “no”.

Then, last spring — thanks to a twist of fate — I had coffee with former major leaguer Ken Phelps and I asked him if he thought Morris belonged in the Hall and he responded without hesitation: “Absolutely.” I told him that many writers disagree and he replied, “Well, they didn’t face him.”

Touche.

I think today I realized why I so badly want to see Morris in the Hall of Fame. It’s because Tigers fans that grew up with the players that formed the core of the 1984 team expected so much from them. Didn’t we honestly think the Tigers would win again and again in the 1980s — not just one other division title in 1987?

For crying out loud, there was Morris, Dan Petry, Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson — the best collection of Tigers players in a generation! And all we got was a single World Series championship?

Granted, I wouldn’t trade the summer of ’84 for anything, I just expected it to be the beginning of something great, not a one-time trip to the baseball summit. Didn’t you?

That’s why I want to see Morris or Trammell in the Hall. They deserve — and I think they’ve earned — a lasting baseball legacy. One that includes more than the magic they displayed in October 1984.

Gerald Laird Likely to Lose at His Uniform-Number Shell Game

LairdHead.jpgOn May 29, Gerald Laird changed his uniform number from 8 to 12 in the hope his offensive luck would change. Who could blame him for trying something — anything — to inject some life into his bat.

How’s it worked? He’s 2 for 16, or .125 since the switcheroo.

Before he had clubhouse guy Jim Schmakel sew him up a new uni, Laird was 16 for 101, or .158. And his overall stats for Laird while wearing #8 — the ones we’ll compare below with his predecessors are: .184 avg., 5 HR, .271 OBP, .553 OPS

This uniform-change ploy got me thinking about recent Tigers players that wore number 8 or number 12 to see which had the best offensive numbers and if, based on recent history (going back to 1995ish), Laird might luck out by some numerical karma.

Continue reading “Gerald Laird Likely to Lose at His Uniform-Number Shell Game”

Tigers Catcher of the Future to Wear Number of Catching Star of the Past

If you’re still scratching your head about the Tigers’ roster moves on Tuesday, here’s at least one answer for you: Alex Avila will wear number 13.

I didn’t like Josh Anderson wearing Lance Parrish‘s old number but feel a smidge better that a catcher will wear it this time.

What do you think of the recent surge of roster moves? Cast your vote in the latest Fungo Pulse Check –>

The Curious Case of June 2, 1980: Tigers and Mariners Play to a Tie

OldTimeWriterXSmall.jpgIn case you were wondering, here’s how the Tigers have fared against the Mariners since Seattle joined the American League in 1977:

  • All-Time Record: 185-152-1
  • All-Time at Home: 104-64-1
  • All-Time at Comerica Park: 22-18
  • All-Time at Seattle: 81-88

Wait a second. The Tigers and Mariners played to a tie? In the 20th century?

This little item sent me scrambling to my favorite site, Baseball-Reference.com, for the details. Here’s what I found:

Continue reading “The Curious Case of June 2, 1980: Tigers and Mariners Play to a Tie”

On This Date in 1986…

…the Tigers acquired catcher Dave Engle to the Twins for the one-time Lou-Whitaker-displacing Chris Pittaro and Alejandro Sanchez.

If I remember correctly, the Tigers viewed Engle as insurance for Lance Parrish but he played only three games at catcher, 23 at first and a smattering of games in the outfield. In 86 at bats he hit .256 and was released on Aug. 10, 1986.

While we’re at it:

Happy Birthday to former Tigers catcher/third baseman/World Series overachiever Marty Castillo, who turns 52.

Remembering Dwight Lowry

Today would have been Dwight Lowry‘s 51st birthday. Fans old enough to remember Tigers baseball in the mid-1980s remember the tall gentle giant of a catching prospect.

Lowry_DwightLowry, an 11th-round pick in 1980, emerged from nowhere in Spring Training 1984 jumping from Double-A Birmingham to the big club as Lance Parrish‘s backup. As Sparky Anderson liked to do with new players, he got Lowry into action right away: as a seventh-inning defensive replacement for Parrish on Opening Day 1984 in Minneapolis.

Lowry was born Dwight Lowery and was 26 at the start of his rookie season. The 6′ 3″, 210-lb. left-handed hitter appeared in 32 games for the Tigers knocking 11 hits (two of them homers) in 45 at bats for a .244 average. His first major-league hit came on April 24 during the second game of a doubleheader against the Twins in Detroit: a single off Frank Viola in the seventh inning. The Tigers won the game 4-3 with the win going to Glenn Abbott. On May 20, he hit his first big-league homer off Oakland’s Lary Sorensen at Tiger Stadium. Sparky wrote about it in his 1984 diary Bless You Boys:

Dwight Lowry is a rookie catcher with us. He hit his first major league home run, so you know he’ll never forget May 20.

Lowry spent part of the season at Triple-A Evansville where he hit .220 in 61 games before being recalled by the Tigers in September.

In 1985, he spent the entire year with the Tigers’ new Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. In 74 games he hit just .182. The next year he again split time with the Tigers and Triple-A. He appeared in 56 games in 1986 — the year Parrish hurt his back and was out after June — mostly at catcher but appeared in one game at each first base and rightfield. In the 1987 Tigers Yearbook the editors pointed out Lowry’s highlights from ’86:

Had three-run homer against Cleveland and hit .370 against the Indians; hit .500 against Kansas City and .389 against Toronto; against Oakland he hit .375 with eight RBI.

The ’87 season was Lowry’s last in Detroit. Appearing in 13 games, he hit .200.

Shortly after the Tigers were bounced from the ALCS by the Twins, Oct. 16, 1987, the Tigers released him. A week later those same Twins signed Lowry as a free agent. He went hitless in seven games for the 1988 Twins and played his final game on April 23, 1988.

His final major league stats: 108 games, 227 at bats, five home runs, 26 RBI and a .273 average.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, in 1989, Lowry played for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. He batted .245 in 43 games.

He returned to the Tigers organization in 1994 as manager of the Double-A Fayatteville Generals of the South Atlantic League. That season they finished in 10th place with a 62-75 record. The next season the Generals finished atop the Sallie League with a 86-55 record.

In ’96 the team finished fifth at 76-63 but won the second-half South Atlantic League Division Title. For his work with the Generals, Lowry was named the Detroit Tigers Player Development Man of the Year. In 1997, Lowry moved on to the Tigers’ New York-Penn League affiliate, the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers. Just 22 games into that season, on July 10, Lowry collapsed and died outside his Jamestown a short time after a 9-8 victory over the Batavia Clippers. According to the team’s GM Mike Ferguson, Lowry was taking out the trash when his wife heard him collapse. He was just 39 years old.

Shortly after Lowry’s death, the Tigers renamed their annual Player Development Man of the Year Award in his honor. Lowry is survived by his wife Pamela and children, Sesilie, Amanda and Zachary.

I remember reading about Lowry’s death and being really saddened by it. It was the first time a Tigers player that I’d watched in person — and particularly one from that 1984 club — had passed away. And at 39 it seemed even more cruel.

There are probably a number of people who’ve won the Lowry Award who never knew of him or saw him play. Let’s hope the Tigers make a point of telling these winners who Dwight Lowry was: a marginal major-league player who was helping shape a future generation of Tigers players.