October Surprise Part 2: Showdown in Toronto

This is Part 2 in our series on the Tigers and Blue Jays’ pennant fight in 1987. Part 1 appeared yesterday.

American League East Standings

September 24, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 93 – 59 .612 –
Detroit 92-59 .609 .5

At the outset of the first series the Tigers sat only a half-game out of first place. The game-one pitching match up featured two of baseball’s best in the 1980s: the Tigers’ Jack Morris and Jays lefty Mike Flanagan.

ViewFromOutfieldXSmall.jpgIt didn’t take long for the complexion of the game, the series and perhaps the season to change dramatically. In the top of the third, with Bill Madlock on first, Kirk Gibson hit a routine double-play ball to second baseman Nelson Liriano. Liriano pivoted and threw to shortstop Tony Fernandez for the force at second; Madlock’s slide toppled Fernandez who fell to the artificial surface, breaking his elbow. (Shortly after Fernandez left the game the Blue Jays announced that he would need surgery and would be out for the remainder of the season.) Gibson reached first on the fielder’s choice.

After a Trammell fly out, Larry Herndon singled, moving Gibson to second. The next hitter, centerfielder Chet Lemon, drove in Gibson and advanced Herndon to third. A Flanagan wild pitch scored Herndon and gave Morris a 2-0 lead.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 2: Showdown in Toronto”

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.

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”

Happy Birthday, Sweetness

How in the world did Lou Whitaker turn 50 — forget about 51, which he is today? Lest we’ve forgotten, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane on his 19-year career with the Tigers:

  • 2,390 games
  • .276 average
  • 2,369 hits
  • 244 home runs

If you’re keeping score at home, Whitaker averaged a hit a game over his career. (Actually he averaged .991 hits a game, but when it’s your birthday, you benefit from rounding up.)

And how is he not in the Hall of Fame? Jeez!

Notable Hardware

  • 1978 Rookie of the Year
  • Five-time All Star
  • Four-time Silver Slugger
  • World Series Champion

Here’s hoping that Sweet Lou enjoyed his birthday at home in Lakeland, Fla., or a local theme park.

The Christmas Evening Non-Sequiturs

COTO DE CAZA, Calif. — While the rest of the family watches the Christmas classic “The Godfather Part III”, thought I’d chime in with some Tigers thoughts on this crisp southern California evening:

  • I’m not above admitting that some (most?) of my Hall of Fame thinking as it relates to Tigers players is rooted deeply in homerism and/or the misguided thinking of youth. When Ryne Sandberg was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, it raised my ire — again — that former Tiger Lou Whitaker couldn’t get as much as a whiff of Hall consideration. Worse, his lack of support left him off future ballots and relegated him to the Veterans Committee for any future consideration.In time for the holidays, Joe Posnanski takes a closer look at the Sandberg-versus-Sweet-Lou comparison and proves that I wasn’t merely a Tigers fan boy: statistically, they are pretty damn close:

    Their careers are of almost identical length (Whitaker had fewer than 200 more at-bats) and here’s how it looks.(snip)Neutralized stat-lineSandberg: .286/.346/.454Whitaker: .282/.369/.434 

    Sure, Sandberg out MVP-ed and Gold Gloved Whitaker, but when you comparing apples to apples, they’re in the same bushel.Read the whole piece, won’t you?

  • Web site polls rarely mean a darn thing but I found this one on ESPN.com today and thought the results were interesting, but none nearly as tasty as the voter demographics. 


    Click “View Map” you can see how each state voted. Check out these results: The Tigers earned 95 percent of the vote from Michigan, the Indians a measly 3 percent.Give credit to Ohio. Forty-nine percent voted for the Indians, 48 percent for the Tigers. Minnesota and North Dakota sided squarely with the Twins (Minn. 60 percent, N.D., 56).The Tigers did well on the eastern seaboard as well. In Rhode Island, 72 percent voted for Detroit, 70 in Delaware.Oh, and in the states holding the first 2008 presidential caucus/primary-ish events: Iowa: (60 percent Tigers, 20 percent Indians); New Hampshire: (77 Tigers, 17 Tribe).(I should mention that the numbers above are based on the 29,000-plus votes, not the 27,935 when I grabbed the image.)

  • Finally, Happy Christmas Birthday to Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont. He’s 61.

Ho-ho-hope you had a Merry Christmas…if you’re the Christmas celebratin’ kind.