Posted: Sept. 27, 2009Tigers recall the path to '84 title
BY BILL DOW
FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER
On a foggy Sunday night in October, 25 years ago, Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres lifted a shallow fly ball down the leftfield line at Tiger Stadium.
"Here comes Herndon," Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell intoned. "He's got it -- and the Tigers are the champions of 1984!"
It was Oct. 14, 1984 -- 7:41 p.m., to be exact -- when Larry Herndon caught the final out in Game 5 of the World Series. As a light rain started to fall, delirious fans stormed the field.
Kirk Gibson, with aggressive base-running and a dramatic, eighth-inning, three-run homer -- his second of the game -- was the hero of the 8-4 victory.
In capturing the franchise's fourth world championship, the Tigers joined the 1927 New York Yankees to become only the second team to go wire-to-wire in the regular season and win a World Series. And Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win world championships in both leagues.
When he was hired by the Tigers in June 1979, Anderson said the team would win a championship in five years. Thanks to general manager Bill Lajoie's drafts, the farm system and savvy acquisitions, the skipper's prediction came true.
With the signing of free-agent slugger Darrell Evans after the 1983 campaign and the spring-training acquisition of first baseman Dave Bergman and reliever Willie Hernandez (who would win the 1984 Cy Young and AL MVP awards), the Tigers fortified an already contending squad.
The team's strength was up the middle with catcher Lance Parrish; ace right-hander Jack Morris; the best keystone combination in baseball, shortstop Alan Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker; and one of the game's premier centerfielders, Chet Lemon.
Yet no one could have envisioned a 1984 season that began with an incomprehensible 35-5 start highlighted by a Jack Morris no-hitter.Living up to expectations
Gibson remembers the anxiety of being the front-runner throughout the 1984 campaign.
"We got off to such a great start that, to an extent, you kind of lived in fear the rest of the year because there is a lot on the line, and the idea of not becoming world champions was a scary thought," said Gibson, now a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Harwell said that in his daily walks with Anderson that season, the manager also expressed concern.
"Sparky did not relax very much that season even though you would have thought otherwise," Harwell said. "He said it was one of his toughest years because he had a fear that the Tigers might blow it in the playoffs and World Series."
After finishing the regular season with a 104-58 record -- the most wins in Tigers history and 15 games ahead of Toronto -- Detroit swept the Kansas City Royals in three games in the AL Championship Series and claimed the AL pennant.
In recognition of his .417 playoff batting average and defensive plays, Gibson was named MVP of the ALCS. He could also have been named the most pleasant surprise of 1984.
In what became his breakout year, Gibson batted .282 with 27 home runs, 91 RBIs and 29 stolen bases.
The Detroit-area native and former Michigan State All-America receiver bypassed an NFL career. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1980 as a promising rookie but had been a disappointment. In 1983 he batted .227.
Despite his early career struggles, Anderson saw Gibson's potential and appreciated his competitive spirit.
"If we won a game and Gibby went 0-for-4, he'd be so happy," Anderson said. "But if we lost and he went 3-for-4, that's one ornery man. I knew then that I had a guy who came to this ballpark to play."Edging closer to the title
After brushing aside Kansas City, the Tigers faced the San Diego Padres led by stalwarts Steve Garvey, Greg Nettles, Gwynn and closer Goose Gossage. The teams split the first two games in San Diego before returning to Detroit.
On a Friday night the Tigers won, 5-2, highlighted by Marty Castillo's two-run homer and Lemon's seventh-inning, game-saving catch in center.
The next afternoon Detroit took a commanding, three-games-to-one lead as World Series MVP Trammell (.450 average) smacked a pair of two-run homers and Morris pitched a complete-game five-hitter in a 4-2 victory.
Only once had the Tigers won a world championship at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull -- 49 years earlier.
With 51,901 fans on hand and millions of viewers watching the NBC telecast by Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola, former third baseman and Tigers TV announcer George Kell threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
In the bottom of the first inning, Gibson commenced his night of heroics. With one on and one out, on the first pitch from lefty Mark Thurmond, Gibson launched a rocket into the rightfield upper deck as Scully told viewers, "And there it goes, for Michigan State and all of Tigerdom."
The Tigers added another run in the first inning and took a 3-0 lead, but by the fourth inning, San Diego had tied the score.
In the fifth, Gibson utilized his speed and aggressive base-running to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead. After slapping a single to left, Gibson tagged on Parrish's deep fly out to leftfield and slid safely into second in a bang-bang play. After consecutive walks to Herndon and Lemon loaded the bases with one out, Gibson was perched on third base as pinch-hitter Rusty Kuntz stepped to the plate.
Kuntz lofted a fly ball to shallow right that rightfielder Gwynn had trouble tracking. With his momentum carrying him away from the plate, second baseman Alan Wiggins snared the ball.
To everyone's surprise, Gibson took off for home. He slid so fiercely that Gibson ripped the right knee out of his pants. The throw never made it home, and the Tigers took a 4-3 lead.
"I knew I probably shouldn't have gone, but I was very aggressive and had good speed and size, and surprise was part of the element," Gibson said. "Even if Wiggins had turned around and made a great throw, the catcher still had to hold on to the ball. I was prepared to definitely press the issue. If he had the ball, I was going to drill him. It was just an exciting play."
Each team added a run, and it was 5-4 going into the bottom of the eighth. Gossage walked Castillo, who advanced to second on Whitaker's sacrifice bunt that was scored as a single when Gary Templeton failed to cover second base. Trammell's sacrifice bunt then sent the runners to second and third with one out and Gibson stepping to the plate.
What followed was the signature moment of the '84 World Series.Gibson's big at-bat
With one out, runners on second and third, first base open and the dangerous Gibson at the plate, conventional wisdom called for an intentional walk to set up a double play or force-out at the plate. Anderson recalls what happened next.
"I always watched the other manager because I wanted to see what he was going to do," he said. "I saw Dick (Williams) say 'four,' meaning walk him. But Gossage was such a competitor and had struck out Gibson so many times, Goose thought he could just get him again."
When Gossage shook off his manager's sign, Williams walked to the mound. TV viewers could read the pitcher's lips, "Let's go after him."
"When Dick walked back to the dugout, I screamed to Gibby, 'He don't want to walk you,' " Anderson said. "Let me tell you, Gibby will not allow you to embarrass him -- that ain't going to happen. You're going to have problems on your hands."
The game's ace reliever reared back and threw an outside fastball for ball one. On his second delivery, Gibson's eyes lit on another fastball, and he sent it deep into the night, into the rightfield upper deck.
"I knew then it was all over," Anderson said. "And to be honest, I realized I would be the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues."
In the ninth, Hernandez secured an 8-4 victory, the Tigers' fourth and most recent world championship.
Twenty-five years later, Free Press Tigers beat writer Bill McGraw recalls the sting of champagne in his eyes during the locker room celebration.
"Although Alan Trammell deserved to win the World Series MVP award, Kirk Gibson stole the show in the last game," said McGraw. "He can always look back on what he did in the final game to win the World Series for his hometown team. He fulfilled the fantasy of every baseball-playing 12-year-old kid in the world."Party like it's 1984
• What: Reunion of the 1984 World Series champion Tigers.
• When: Before Monday night's 7:05 game against the Twins.
• Where: Comerica Park, Detroit.Dream team A look inside the 1984 Tigers:The lineupThe first four positions were pretty well set:2B
... Lou WhitakerSS
... Alan Trammell
... Kirk Gibson
... Lance Parrish• After that, it often was:DH
... Darrell EvansCF
... Chet Lemon
... Larry Herndon1B
... Dave Bergman
... Howard JohnsonThe benchUT
... Barbaro Garbey
... Tom BrookensOF
... Ruppert JonesUT
... Johnny Grubb
... Rusty KuntzUT
... Marty CastilloThe rotation
... Jack Morris
... Dan Petry
... Milt WilcoxRH
... Juan Berenguer
... Dave RozemaThe 'penLH
... Willie Hernandez
... Aurelio LopezRH
... Doug BairStatistical leaders
Average - Trammell .314
Home runs - Parrish 33
RBIs - Parrish 98
Runs - Gibson 92
Stolen Bases - Gibson 29
Victories - Morris 19
Saves - Hernandez 32
ERA - Hernandez 1.92