The Tigers returned to contention in the early eighties. In 1983, they finished six games behind Baltimore. During the off-season, Detroit added Willie Hernandez in a trade with Philadelphia. The trade put the Tigers over the top. Hernandez proved nearly perfect and won the MVP and Cy Young Award. The Tigers started the 1984 season 35-5 and never looked back. The start represented the team as they often bolted out to an early lead and cruised to victory in many games. As a result, the 1984 Tigers are considered one of baseball’s greatest teams.
The Tigers added Willie Hernandez, Dave Bergman, and Darrell Evans after the 1983 season. Evans was Detroit’s first major free agent signing after clubbing 30 home runs with the Giants. He struggled in 1984 after switching leagues, but eventually became a major contributor. Bergman played in San Francisco with Evans and came over in the Willie Hernandez trade. Bergman played excellent first base and had a knack of coming through in the clutch. On June 4, 1984, Bergman’s 13 pitch battle with Toronto’s Roy Lee Jackson ended with a three-run walk off home run and a Tiger extra inning victory.
The Tigers traded popular outfielder Glenn Wilson and catcher John Wockenfuss for Bergman and the left handed pitcher. Hernandez became the Tigers closer and saved 32 games in 33 chance. The nearly unhittable Hernandez pitched over 140 innings in relief and won the Cy Young and American League MVP. Hernandez teamed with Aurelio Lopez to dominate the back end of games. Lopez went 10-1 with 14 saves.
Hernandez was the bullpen ace, but Jack Morris was the staff ace. Morris won 19 games in 1984 and no-hit the White Sox in April. During the postseason, Morris added three wins without a loss. Dan Petry proved to be the team’s second ace in the rotation with 18 wins. Milt Wilcox had a career year with 17 wins. Juan Berenguer chipped in 11 victories.
The pitching staff benefited from the league’s best offense and great defense. Catcher Lance Parrish clubbed 33 home runs and drove in 98. He also won a gold glove. Shortstop Alan Trammell hit .314 and won a gold glove. Trammell’s double play partner, Lou Whitaker, hit .289 and won a gold glove and silver slugger. Bergman played solid first base. Third base was a revolving door. Howard Johnson, Tom Brookens, Darrell Evans, Marty Castillo, and Barbaro Garbey all spent time at the hot corner.
While the Tigers rotated third basemen, the outfield proved the team’s strength in 1984. Larry Herndon and Rupert Jones split time in leftfield. Herndon hit .280 and Jones hit 12 home runs in 215 at bats. Chet Lemon played gold glove caliber centerfield, had greater range than most outfielders, and hit 20 homers. He also made one of the greatest catches in World Series history. In right field, Kirk Gibson blossomed with a .282 average, 27 home runs, and a .516 slugging. Gibson could run like the wind and had 10 triples and 29 steals.
Gibson and the Tigers busted out of the gate with the best 40 game record in history. They won behind Jack Morris on opening day. Darrell Evans paid immediate dividends and clubbed a home run at the Metrodome to support Morris. On April 7, Morris no-hit the White Sox on national television. When the Tigers finally opened at home after a week on the road, Evans hit another homer and Petry beat the Rangers 5-1.
Detroit began the season at 9-0. On the way to 9-0, a bizarre incident occurred in Boston. The Tigers beat the Red Sox 13-9 on Friday the 13th. In the first inning, Lance Parrish made all three outs. He struck out and hit into a double play. The Tigers catcher wore #13.
The Tigers went 18-2 in April. Their second loss came in 19 innings against Cleveland. Cleveland scored four in the 19th after Gibson dropped a ball. The game ended at 1:19 am. Despite the loss, the Tigers came back the next day to defeat the Tribe. Meanwhile, Alan Trammell enjoyed a 20 game hit streak.
May began with an 11-2 win against Boston. Chet Lemon hit two home runs and Wilcox got the win. The magic continued against Kansas City. Alan Trammell hit a dramatic grand slam to defeat relief ace Dan Quisenberry. On May 11, the Tigers broke the record for best record after 30 games. Detroit stood at 26-4. On May 24, Morris tossed a 4-hitter and the Tigers tied the record for most consecutive road wins at 17. After starting 35-5, the Seattle Mariners swept Detroit in a three game series. Toronto hoped to capitalize.
In June, Toronto rolled into Detroit for a showdown. Despite a 38-11 record, the Tigers led the Jays by only 4 ½ games. On June 4, Dave Bergman hit the homer off Roy Lee Jackson. Toronto stormed back to win the next two cutting Detroit’s lead to 3 ½. On June 7, Morris beat Jim Clancy 5-3 putting the Tigers back on track. Toronto left Detroit in the same position they entered. It was as close as Toronto ever came to first place.
After the Toronto series, Detroit steadily increased their lead. At the end of June, Detroit led the east by 10 games. After splitting a doubleheader on July 31, the Tigers led by 12. The lead dropped to 9 ½ by August 31. The Tigers were on cruise control. They clinched the AL East on September 18 becoming the third team in history to go wire-to-wire. Detroit led the division from opening day to the end of the season. Only the 1927 Yankees and 1955 Dodgers had done that. In 1990, the Reds repeated this feat. The Tigers finished with a franchise record 104 wins and marched into Kansas City for the ALCS.
The Tigers swept the Royals out of the playoffs. Kirk Gibson won the ALCS MVP. Detroit won the first game 8-1. In Game Two, John Grubb hit a game winning double in extra innings for a Tiger victory. They completed the sweep when Milt Wilcox defeated hard luck Charlie Liebrandt 1-0 giving Detroit its first pennant since 1968.
The Tigers faced San Diego in the World Series. It was one of the fall classic’s greatest mismatches. Morris beat San Diego 3-2 in Game One. The Padres avoided a sweep with a Game Two win. Detroit led the game early, but Petry lost the lead. Kurt Bevacqua hit a home run and danced around the bases blowing kisses to the crowd. It was bush league and Detroit took note.
After Bevacqua’s childish behavior, Milt Wilcox beat the Padres in Game Three. Detroit led two-games-to-one going into Game Four. Jack Morris proved unbeatable. San Diego had no chance against the Tiger ace. Alan Trammell launched two homers and drove in all four Tiger runs. Detroit won 4-2 and led the World Series three-games-to-one.
Game Five is legendary in the Motor City. Detroit scored three in the first and San Diego came back to tie. The Tigers pulled ahead on a sacrifice fly to second base. Rusty Kuntz popped up to Alan Wiggins and Kirk Gibson scored on the shocked Padres. Desperate, San Diego brought in Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage to keep it close. Lance Parrish greeted him with a solo homer. Detroit led 5-3.
San Diego pulled to within 5-4 behind Bevacqua’s second series home run. In the 8th, Kirk Gibson came to bat with two on. Padre manager Dick Williams ordered a walk. Gossage refused and convinced his manager to allow him to pitch to Gibson. Gibson bet his manager $10 he would get the Goose. The Tigers right fielder launched a moon shot into the upper deck. Detroit led 8-4. Hernandez closed the door and Detroit won its first series since 1968.
The win was particularly sweet for Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson. Anderson led Cincinnati to two World Championships and was dismissed by the Reds. Cincinnati’s loss was Detroit’s gain. Anderson became the first manager to win the World Series in both leagues and eventually made the Hall of Fame.
The Detroit Tigers were one of the greatest teams in history. They started 35-5 and cruised to the AL East title. They finished with 104 regular season wins. In the postseason, Detroit went 7-1. They swept Kansas City and beat San Diego in five. Despite the dominance, Detroit did not return to the World Series again until 2006. To date, 1984 is the Tigers last championship.