1984 The Roar of a Powerhouse

Led by former Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson, the Detroit Tigers take first place on Opening Day and never look back, winning 35 of their first 40 games to breeze all the way to a convincing World Series title.

Jack Morris reacts to the final out of his early-season no-hitter, the pinnacle moment in the Detroit Tigers’ electrifying start to their championship campaign.

When Sparky Anderson took over as manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1979, he initiated a five-year plan, the ultimate goal of which was to bring a world championship to the Motor City.

Give the man credit for delivering on a deadline.

Triumphant on schedule, the 1984 Tigers—a well-balanced blend of ballplayers who mostly grew together through Anderson’s time-lined program—were more than just another World Series champ. They were immensely dominant from start to finish, never once looking up in the regular season standings, never once trailing in a postseason series. Only one other team in baseball history could make such a claim: The 1927 New York Yankees.

Anderson’s rise in Detroit began from an inexplicable fall from grace at Cincinnati, where spoiled Reds management gave him the boot for two straight second-place finishes after years of star-studded, championship-caliber results. With the Tigers, a team easily capable of playing .500 baseball, Anderson didn’t necessarily inherit a squad in need of serious rehabilitation. More aggressive fortune tellers of the game might have felt five years were more than enough to give the Tigers roster a chance, but Anderson—who at 50 had long since grayed but was now wrinkling to boot—sold his young and talented Detroit players with a patient and comforting old man sage.

The first three years of Anderson’s best laid plans resulted in winning records, but without a serious challenge for postseason entry. The fourth year brought the Tigers within six games of first place with 92 wins, suggesting that they were ramping up.

For year five, the Tigers exploded out of the gate like no team, before or since.

The Tigers won their first nine games. After losing two, they won seven more in a row. That was quickly followed by two more streaks of seven and nine wins each. In all, Detroit won 35 of its first 40 games and tied a major league record by winning its first 17 games on the roadWhen the Tigers won their 17th straight road game against the California Angels at Anaheim, a sellout throng gave them a standing ovation.—though any home field advantage for opponents had been chipped away by Tigers fans, old and new alike, who came out of the woodwork to support their team. About the only thing that went wrong for the Tigers during this phenomenal first-quarter stretch was a collision on an attempted embrace between ace pitcher Jack Morris and catcher Lance Parrish after Morris tossed a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox.

It goes without saying that any team winning 35 of 40 games would have the statistics balanced heavily in its favor. So here’s what the Tigers racked up while accomplishing that record to start 1984.

The Tigers were hardly ego-driven, a blue-collar collection of stars without superstars—a consistent and sound group with no weaknesses to be found anywhere. Among the maturing were the inseparable middle infield duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, in the midst of an impressive 18-year run at Detroit starting alongside one another. Parrish, a former bodyguard for Tina Turner, led the Tigers with 33 homers and was tough as nails behind the plate.

Yet the most omnipotent danger for opposing pitchers was outfielder Kirk Gibson, a former football star at nearby Michigan State who the Tigers were lucky to snare in the 1978 draft, while others ahead in line assumed he favored the NFL. With a gridiron-like mentality, Gibson became a clubhouse leader by embracing challenge and condemning complacency—and took his intensity to the plateGibson became the first Tiger to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season., batting .282 with 92 runs scored, 91 knocked in, 29 stolen bases and double-figures in all extra-base categories (including 27 home runs).

The unquestioned ace of the Detroit staff was Morris, a 29-year-old right-hander who grated his teammates with a preponderance to pout when things didn’t go right. As with the rest of the Tigers, few things went wrong for Morris in 1984, leading the club with 19 wins against 11 losses.

The man who put the Tigers over the top in 1984 was to be found in the bullpen. In seven previous years toiling in the National League, Willie Hernandez had always been a long reliever, never a closer—a southpaw pitching well enough to keep his earned run average just above 3.00. He had recently developed a screwball to go with a bread-and-butter fastball, and once in Detroit under the tutelage of Tigers pitching coach (and future San Francisco manager) Roger Craig, Hernandez mixed the two pitches perfectly throughout 1984. The Puerto Rico native could do little wrong, recording 32 straight saves before finally blowing one in a meaningless late-season contest, and authored a 1.92 ERA to earn both the American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards.

Standing head, shoulders, waist and knees above the rest of baseball with their white hot start, the Tigers early and rightfully had October on their minds—which led to a problem for Sparky Anderson: How to keep the momentum on track through the bulk of the regular season. It wouldn’t be easy.

The national media, having made the Tigers their darlings, put the players in high demand of interviews and promotions that threatened to take the team off its focus. Other AL teams began treating the Tigers as world champs long before they could claim it, turning it up a notch whenever they went out to face them. Starting pitching fell flat in midsummer, and a volatile Jack Morris upset the clubhouse air with a series of outbursts and a self-imposed moratorium with the media.

Through it all, the Tigers slipped but never fell. Their worst month of the year came with a 16-15 August. Their 104 total wins—53 at home, 51 on the road—represented a club recordThe Tigers did have better years, by percentage, in 1909, 1915 and 1934. and crowned Sparky Anderson as the first manager to win 100 games for teams in both leagues. The Toronto Blue Jays, finishing 15 games behind Detroit for second place in the AL East, never got any closer than 7.5 games after the Tigers’ 35-5 start, and blew their one long shot to actually make a race of it when they lost five of six to the Tigers to start September.

The AL West-winning Kansas City RoyalsThe Royals emerged from a three-way battle with the Angels and surprising Minnesota Twins in September to win the AL West by three games. were so inferior to Detroit—at 84-78, they would have finished sixth in the AL East—it seemed almost criminal that the Tigers had to prove their worth against them in the ALCS to reach the World Series. But Detroit pitching, which had glued itself back together in September, toughened up against the Royals, allowing just four runs and a .170 batting average in a three-game sweep.

Having conquered the American League with ease, the Tigers now awaited to find out who from the National League could possibly knock them off.

The San Diego Padres entered 1984 with 15 years of existence—only one of which had resulted in a winning record. But the 1984 edition was no longer the infant Padres of lore, teams that played depressing baseball in drab brown-and-yellow uniforms before small crowds at voluminous San Diego Stadium.

The current-day Padres were a talented mix of postseason-enriched veterans (Steve Garvey, Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage), rising stars (Tony Gwynn, Kevin McReynolds, Alan Wiggins), an aceless yet steady starting rotation (led by Eric Show and Ed Whitson) and a veteran manager (Dick Williams) who could forge victories out of any unit—all wearing bright fast-food colors for a franchise owned by the founders of McDonald'sRay Kroc, who had bought the Padres in 1974, died shortly before the 1984 season began; his wife Joan took over as the official team owner..

After threatening to become a threat under Williams in 1982-83—two seasons in which San Diego finished each at an even 81-81—the Padres made good in 1984 against weakened NL West competition, emerging as the only team in the division to finish above .500 at 92-70. Garvey hit .284 with only eight home runs, but was flawless on defense, making no errorsGarvey’s 1.000 fielding percentage was a first for an everyday major league first baseman. in 1,319 chances at first base. Gwynn, playing his first full year at age 24, batted .351 to capture his first of eight NL batting titles. Wiggins stole 70 bases and scored 106 runs. Gossage backed up the unwavering rotation with ten wins, 25 saves and a 2.90 ERA.

With little tradition to speak of, the Padres were hardly the sentimental favorites in the NLCS. That distinction clearly belonged to the NL East-winning Chicago Cubs, making their first postseason appearance in nearly 40 years.

NL MVP Ryne Sandberg is accompanied off the field by delirious Chicago fans who made the trip to Pittsburgh to see the Cubs clinch their first postseason berth since 1945.

The Cubs would make their only campaign above the .500 mark between 1977-89 highly worthwhile. Starring on this one-year wonder was second baseman Ryne Sandberg, an unassuming presence who after a few quiet years in Chicago suddenly transformed himself into an all-around force once manager Jim Frey prodded him to become more of a power hitter. A responsive Sandberg stopped chopping ground balls and started lining them all over the place, and the resultsSandberg also won the first of nine straight Gold Gloves at second base. were frightening for opponents: A .314 batting average, 36 doubles, 19 triples, 19 home runs, 84 RBIs and 32 steals.

But Dallas Green—who three years earlier traded in his combative existence as Philadelphia manager for the general manager’s role in Chicago—needed something more to push the Cubs over the top, and made two pivotal midseason trades toward that goal. He acquired one starting pitcher in veteran Dennis Eckersley, then another in Rick SutcliffeThe Cubs’ trade for Sutcliffe was certainly a classic case of “the future is now;” they dealt youngsters Joe Carter and Mel Hall to the Indians to get him., languishing at Cleveland—where it was easy to do so—with a 4-5 record and 5.15 ERA. Eckersley’s 10-8 record with the Cubs was misleading when considering his fine 3.08 ERA, but there was no mistaking Sutcliffe’s numbers; his 16-1 recordSutcliffe became the first pitcher to split 20 victories between both leagues since 1945 when, ironically, Hank Borowy achieved it pitching the second half of the season for the World Series-bound Cubs. and 2.69 ERA at Chicago provided the final turn of the key to unlocking the Cubs’ 1984 success, as Chicago stormed past a promising New York Mets squad (loaded with 19-year-old rookie pitcher Dwight Gooden and 22-year-old sophomore slugger Darryl Strawberry) to win the NL East by 6.5 games.

Playing at a historic Wrigley Field adorned by ivied walls, bleacher bums and broadcaster Harry Caray’s colorful antics, the winning—and winsome—Cubs became an infectious sell for the millions who caught them on their nationwide cable outlet, WGN.

After winning the first two NLCS games at Chicago, the Cubs lost the next three games and the NL pennant when the Padres advanced with late rallies.

By comparison, the lack of tradition the San Diego Padres brought to the NLCS against the Cubs must have made them feel like unwanted party guests. No matter, Chicago whooped it up at home in the first two games, crushing the Padres by scores of 13-0 and 4-2. Flying back to San Diego with three games to win one, the Cubs boisterously readied for the kill, while the emotionally comatose Padres arrived back in town surprised to find a raucous fan base ready to stand them back on their feet. The overwhelming support was just the jumpstart the Padres needed, storming back to win all three games at home, each after spotting the Cubs with early leads. It was the Cubs’ turn to go numb, living a disbelieving end to a season suddenly gone south all the way to the Mexican border.

For the Padres, the hard part still lay ahead: Overcoming the Detroit Tigers.

Unanimously cast as big-time World Series underdogs, the Padres’ delusions of grandeur could have actually been realized against the AL juggernaut. But one thing got in the way: Starting pitching.

So reliant all year, the Padre rotation completely self-destructedThe World Series ERA of Padres starters was 13.94. against Detroit. Mark Thurmond opened Game One and lasted five innings in a 3-2 loss; his effort would easily be the workhorse showing of the series. Game Two starter Ed Whitson lasted two-thirds of an inning. Tim Lollar was pulled bfore the end of the second inning in Game Three. Eric Show was removed before three innings were up in Game Four. Thurmond, perhaps inspired in the worst way, returned to the mound in Game Five and lasted all of a third of an inning.

The San Diego bullpen—already taxed from overwork against the Cubs—had no choice but to earn more overtime pay and give Padres hitters a chance to overcome early Detroit leads. San Diego managed one comeback with a 5-3 Game Two victory, but otherwise the Padres were asking for it against the almighty Tigers.

Just by himself, Jack Morris nearly doubled the total number of innings pitched by the entire Padres rotation by tossing complete game victories in Games One and Four. Alan Trammell homered twice and knocked in all four runs for Morris in a 4-2 Game Four win; Kirk Gibson homered twice himself in the Game Five clincher, an 8-4 victory wrapped up by Willie Hernandez’s second Series save in the ninth.

As Detroit fans went wild in celebration outside of Tiger Stadium—too wild, with a slew of arrests and 83 casualties including one death—Sparky Anderson toasted his players inside with his catchphrase for the season, “Bless You Boys,” thanking the Tigers for following his five-year script to a steamrolling conclusion.

1985 baseball historyForward to 1985: The Missouri Stakes Blown calls and hot tempers put a controversial finish to the "I-70 Series" between Kansas City and St. Louis.

1983 baseball historyBack to 1983: The Good, the Old and the Ugly The Baltimore Orioles (good) fight off unlikely foes in the Philadelphia Phillies (old) and the Chicago White Sox (ugly).

1980s baseball historyThe 1980s Page: Corporate Makeover Baseball enjoys a healthy boom on several fronts, with increased attendance, corporate sponsorship and memorabilia sales; players also continue to enjoy skyrocketing salaries, but some abuse their newfound riches by delving into illegal drugs.

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1984 Standings

National League East
Chicago Cubs
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
Philadelphia Phillies
Montreal Expos
Pittsburgh Pirates
National League West
San Diego Padres
Atlanta Braves
Houston Astros
Los Angeles Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
San Francisco Giants
American League East
Detroit Tigers
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Baltimore Orioles
Cleveland Indians
Milwaukee Brewers
American League West
Kansas City Royals
California Angels
Minnesota Twins
Oakland A's
Chicago White Sox
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers

1984 Postseason Results
NLCS San Diego defeated Chicago, 3-2.
ALCS Detroit defeated Kansas City, 3-0.
World Series Detroit (AL) defeated San Diego (NL), 4-1.

It Happened in 1984

From IOC to MLB
Peter Ueberroth, a dauntless businessman who revived the long-lost notion that the Olympics could make money—lots of money—after the tremendous financial success of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, is eagerly brought in by major league owners to succeed the ousted Bowie Kuhn as baseball’s commissioner. The owners are so desperate for Ueberroth, they give him expanded powers and a salary double that of Kuhn’s. Ueberroth will preach aggressive corporate sponsorship, fiscal responsibility (although owners will take it a few extra steps toward collusion) and will eventually help negotiate baseball’s first billion-dollar television contract.

Gooden ’Nuf
Dwight Gooden, 19, becomes the most heralded teenage pitching sensation since Bob Feller with a stunning rookie performance. The New York Mets right-hander produces a 17-9 record with a 2.60 ERA and a National League-best 276 strikeouts—in 218 innings. Batters can only hit .202 against Gooden, which also leads the NL. Gooden’s efforts aren’t restricted to the regular season; he strikes out the side in the fifth inning of the All-Star Game at San Francisco on July 10. All of the above is subtle prologue for what Gooden has in store for 1985.

It’s Just a Matter of Time…
Pete Rose, one day shy of his 43rd birthday, becomes only the second player in baseball history to collect 4,000 big league hits when he doubles off of Philadelphia pitcher Jerry Koosman for the Expos at Montreal on April 13. The days of Ty Cobb’s all-time base hit record look numbered as Rose shows little sign of slowing down.

The Perfect Ending
On the final day of the regular season, California pitcher Mike Witt throws the ninth perfect game in the modern era when he retires all 27 Rangers at Arlington. Witt throws just 94 pitches—70 for strikes—in the Angels’ 1-0 triumph on September 30.

The Main Event: San Diego vs. Atlanta
An August 12 beanball war that takes place in Atlanta between the Braves and the San Diego Padres turns into one of the nastiest series of brawls in recent memory. It begins on the very first pitch when Atlanta starter Pascual Perez hits the Padres’ Alan Wiggins in the back; it continues as the Padres throw at Perez every time he comes to bat, twice hitting him; and it finally explodes with two late-inning melees that lead to the ejection of 15 players, both managers, both acting managers and two spectators. Perez frighteningly evokes Juan Marichal in the first fight when he raises his bat to ward off potential brawlers. Numerous fines and suspensions are levied in the wake of the game, won by the Braves, 5-3.

Pajama Party
It takes 25 innings, 753 pitches and eight-plus hours over two days to get it done, but the Chicago White Sox outlast the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-6, to win the second longest game in major league history by innings—and the longest by elapsed time. The game begins at Comiskey Park on the evening of May 8, is suspended after 17 innings in accordance with the American League-mandated curfew of 1:05 a.m., and is picked up the next day—lasting another eight innings before the start of the regularly scheduled May 9 contest. The Brewers score three in the top of the 21st to position themselves for the win, but the White Sox rally with three runs of their own to tie it back up. Harold Baines finally ends it with a solo shot in the 25th. Tom Seaver, Chicago’s eighth pitcher of the game, pitches the final inning to earn the win.

Game of the Year
The Chicago Cubs—and more memorably, budding second baseman Ryne Sandberg—serve notice to the baseball world they’re for real with a scintillating comeback against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field on June 23. Trailing 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth, Sandberg hits a leadoff home run against Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter, having a sensational season for St. Louis. Sent into extra innings, Sutter again faces Sandberg with a 11-9 lead, one on and two outs; but Sandberg clubs yet another home run to re-tie the game at 11-11, setting up an 11th inning from which the Cubs will score once to win. Sandberg ends the game 5-for-6 with seven RBIs on a day many consider his star to be born; longtime Cubs fans still refer to the 12-11 Chicago victory as “The Sandberg Game.”

Strike Call of a Different Sort
Major league umpires, unhappy about the amount of money afforded to them for postseason work, protest right to the heart of the matter and strike at the beginning of the League Championship Series. With Commissioner Ueberroth mediating, a settlement is reached a week later and the umpires return in time for the start of the World Series. In their place, college and other amateur umpires are used.

The Jackson 500
Reggie Jackson becomes the 13th player in major league history to reach 500 home runs when he launches a solo blast for California against the Kansas City Royals on September 17—exactly 17 years after hitting his very first home run. Number 500 provides the Angels with their only run in a 10-1 loss to the Royals at Anaheim.

Slow Jim Fizzes
Slugger Jim Rice, not the fastest guy in baseball, grounds into an all-time record 36 double plays for the Boston Red Sox—not the fastest team in baseball, as evidenced by a major league-low 38 steals on the season. Rice will come within one GDP of tying his own record in 1985, the last of four consecutive seasons in which Rice will lead the AL in hitting into twin-killings.

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