A New Project for 2011: “Today’s Tiger”

Today I’m launching a project that I’ve wanted to explore since I started The Daily Fungo in March 2006. I’m calling it Today’s Tiger, a daily look at a Tigers player from the past, posted each day of 2011. Some installments will be brief, others more in-depth but hopefully you’ll learn a little bit about Tigers history and the players that’ve worn Olde English D.

Let me know what you think — and feel free to suggest players you’d like me to highlight.

So, with that, here’s the first installment.

Lynn Jones

  • Born: Jan. 1, 1953 in Meadville, PA
  • Acquired: Drafted from the Reds in the 1978 rule 5 draft, Dec. 4, 1978.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 5 (1979-83)
  • Uniform number: 35 
  • Stats: .264 avg., 6 HR, 71 RBI, .658 OPS

The Tigers selected Lynn Jones from the Reds in the December 1978 Rule 5 Draft and, as they were required to do, kept him on the 25-man roster the entire 1979 season. In 95 games that year Jones batted .296 with four home runs, seeing time mostly in the outfield but also as a pinch-hitter.

Jones was a role player and pinch hitter for Sparky Anderson’s earliest Detroit teams, posting a decent on-base percentage in his first three seasons. The 1982 and ’83 seasons, though, saw his production slip and as a result his playing time was limited to 64 at bats in ’83.

That offseason the Tigers made him a free agent and he promptly signed with the Royals. In 1984, Jones hit a career-high .301 in a similar role to what he played in Detroit. He faced his former team in the American League Championship Series, going just 1 for 5.

The next season Jones appeared in 110 games for Dick Howser‘s Royals — a career high — but saw his average plummet 90 points. It wasn’t a total downer though, he won a World Series ring that year and had two extra-base hits in the Series against the Cardinals.

1986 would be his final big-league season — and his worst statistically. He hit .128 in 67 games with a single RBI and after that season he became a free agent but didn’t sign with another team.

Jones was the Royals’ first base coach in 1991 and 1992 before managing in the Marlins system. In 2001, he was the Marlins’ first-base coach. He earned his second World Series ring in 2004 as a member of Terry Francona‘s coaching staff in Boston. Today he’s the Braves’ baserunning coordinator.

2010: The Year in Lists

2011Calendar.jpgA year ago, we were still stinging from Game 163 and not certain how the Tigers would respond to a crushing end to the 2009 season. Would they regress to 2008’s disappointment or regroup to erase the memory of the ’09 collapse?

The answer was: they’d be relevant. And that, ladies in gentlemen, is the extent of the analysis in this post. Instead of a deep dive into 2010, let’s look at the year in the form of randomly selected lists:

2010 At A Glance*

  • Record: 81-81, 3rd in American League Central, 13 games back of Minnesota
  • Days in First: 13, the last on July 10
  • Biggest Lead: 1, last on July 7
  • Farthest Behind: 15.5 on Sept. 15
  • Most Games over .500: 11, last on July 10
  • Most Games under .500: 5, last on Aug. 19
  • Longest Winning Streak: 7, June 11-18
  • Longest Losing Streak: 7, July 11-20
  • Most Runs Allowed: 15, June 9
  • Most Runs Scored: 13, Aug. 15
  • Longest Game (innings): 14, July 19
  • Times Shutout by Opponent: 10
  • Times Opponent Shutout: 5

Continue reading “2010: The Year in Lists”

Sunday Snacks: Sparky Leftovers

SaltySnacks.jpgAs much as I want to bash the re-signing of Jhonny Peralta, I’m going to rely on lessons learned from 2005 when the Tigers inexplicably signed Kenny RogersKenny Rogers?! — and Todd JonesTodd Jones?!. Those signings turned out pretty well, all things considered.

Besides, I don’t have the energy to get all riled up; watching that Michigan game wore me out.

  • With the exception of the Detroit papers, most obituaries on Sparky Anderson have been wire copy. The notable exceptions include this one from The New York Times and this one from the closest thing to a hometown paper, The Los Angeles Times.

  • On case you were wondering about how the newspaper in Sparky’s real hometown, his birthplace, Bridgewater, S.D., covered his passing, well, they didn’t as far as I can tell.

  • Here’s one more for you on Sparky, courtesy of Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times.

  • The guys at Stadium Journey keep churning out great reviews of ballparks and arenas around the country. Recently they posted their review of Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

  • We all know that the Cardinals had no business beating the Tigers in the 2006 World Series. Now the rest of the world is reminded of it thanks to this piece by Joe Posnanski on SI.com in which he ranks the 10-weakest World Series winners since 1946. Savor the ’06 Cardinals’ ranking: the second-weakest.

  • Speaking of Mr. Posnanski, he wrote a terrific piece, of course, on Sparky.

Finally, Happy 53rd Birthday to Christopher Knight, who played Peter on “The Brady Bunch.”

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.

October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title

ViewFromOutfieldXSmall.jpgOver the next week, we’ll watch the Tigers and Twins play head-to-head to decide the American League Central.

While this plays out, let’s look back at the final two weekends of the 1987 season when the Tigers and Blue Jays squared off for seven heart-pounding, one-run games that would ultimately decide the American League East title.

Today, Part 1.

“I’m telling you, everything is going to come down to our seven games with Toronto.” — Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson, Sept. 21, 1987

Entering the 1987 season, little was expected of the Detroit Tigers. Just three seasons removed from a wire-to-wire championship season, the Tigers were considered mere also-rans in a division filled with potent lineups, solid pitching and the defending League Champions, the Red Sox.

Adding to an already challenging divisional landscape, the Tigers faced life without their All Star catcher and cleanup hitter, Lance Parrish. The Big Wheel rejected the Tigers’ two-year, $2.4 million contract offer and instead signed a one-year $800,000 deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s why in the first weeks of the 1987 season the story in baseball was not the Detroit Tigers. Hardly. The Milwaukee Brewers’ 13-0 start captivated the baseball world. After 13 games the Tigers had a less-imposing 6-7 record. Twenty games into the season Milwaukee had stormed to 18-2, four games ahead of New York, followed by Toronto (12-8), Baltimore (9-11), Detroit (8-12) and Cleveland (6-14).

Continue reading “October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title”