Why the 1975 Tigers? A few reasons.
They had an odd mix of players - aging familiar names who had won a World Series 7 years prior playing next to journeymen veterans and several never-gonna-be youngsters, led through the wilderness by the steady hand of The Major, Ralph Houk.
Like the 2003 Tigers, the 1975 team nearly set baseball history for all the wrong reasons. And, God forbid, I'm old enough to have watched them play. Bad as they were, and they were awful, the mid-70's Tigers were my team.
With the help of Baseball Reference, Google News archives and my own sometimes faulty memory, let's travel back a few decades to August 16th, 1975. Having lost 19 consecutive games, the last place in the East Detroit Tigers are in Anaheim to face the last place in the West California Angels in game 121 of the 1975 season. Time to relive (or for most of you, learn about) the pleasure and pain that was mid-70's Tigers baseball.
THE STREAK IS OVER! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, THE 19 GAME LOSING STREAK IS OVER!
Ray Bare pitched the best game of his career, tossing 6 2/3 no-hit innings, ultimately allowing just 2 singles in an 8-0 shutout road victory over the California Angels. Bare's 7th victory of the season ended the Tigers losing steak at 19 games. Chuck Hockenbery, who will long be known as the man who finally lost to the woeful Tigers, pitched into the 6th for the Angels, falling to 0-3 on the season. Hockenberry allowed 4 runs, 3 earned, on 7 hits.
Bill Freehan led the Tigers' 16 hit attack with 4 hits and 3 RBI, including a double and triple. Danny Meyer chipped in with 3 hits, and Tom Veryzer added 2 hits and 3 RBI. The Angels' Dave Chalk broke up Bare's no-hitter with a 2 out single in the 7th.
Starting off the 2nd night of a long 12 game road trip with a bang, the Tigers would get all the runs they needed to stop the bleeding (after 19 consecutive losses, there's not much blood left) in top of the 1st.
After 2 were down, Meyer doubled to center. Willie Horton followed with a base on balls. Meyer would scramble home on Freehan's single to right. Jerry Remy's error on Ben Oglivie's ground ball allowed Horton to score all the way from 2nd, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
For the next few innings the Tigers often moribund offense went into a shell, putting the burden of ending the losing streak on Bare. He was up to the challenge.
In the bottom of the 2nd, Freehan's 2 base throwing error on Dave Collin's chopper gave the Angels an early scoring threat. The speedy Collins advanced to 3rd on Bruce Bochte's ground ball, but was stranded as Bare got Chalk on a liner to Veryzer.
The Tigers' porous defense continued to make Bare's life difficult. Adrian Garrett, the Angels' .203 hitting DH, reached when Meyer booted his ground ball with 2 out in the 4th. But Bare bore down and induced Collins to bounce into an inning ending 4-3 ground out.
Ron LeFore doubled to right with 2 down in the top of the 5th, but tried to stretch 2 bases into 3. A perfect relay throw from Remy nailed the fleet of foot LeFlore at 3rd, Chalk slapping on the tag. Not smart base running by LeFlore, typical of what we've seen from this team over the past 19 games. You can tell LeFlore is still learning the finer aspects of the game, for obvious reasons.
Bare shook off LeFlore's miscue, easily setting the Angels down in order in the 5th and 6th, the Angels beating his sinking fastball into the ground. The no-no was still in play.
Then something rare happened. The Tigers commenced to break the game wide open.
Freehan led off the 7th with a triple to deep center. Oglivie followed suit, doubling to deep center, Freehan strolling home to make it 3-0 Tigers. Wanting to end the farcical losing streak by forcing the issue, Ralph Houk surprisingly gave Oglivie the green light. He would steal 3rd for his 5th swipe of the season.
The aggressiveness would pay off, though it would take a few batters.
Oglivie had to hold at 3rd on Robert's 6-3 ground out. At that point, Angels skipper Dick Williams had seen enough of Hockenbery, pulling his starter for right-handed reliever Don Kirkwood. It looked like Williams' move was going to pay off when Kirkwood struck out the offensively challenged Aurelio Rodriguez. But the Tigers were not to be denied. Veryzer singled through the box, plating Oglivie to make it 4-0.
LeFlore followed with a single, Veryzer scooting to 3rd. But Kirkwood would pitch out of trouble on Gary Sutherland's inning ending bounce out.
The Tigers had given Bare a 4 run cushion. But the long inning may have affected the Tigers' starter, as he walked Mickey Rivers leading off the bottom of the 7th. Before the AL leader in stolen bases got a chance to test Freehan's arm, Garrett grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice, forcing Rivers at 2nd. A trade off Bare was happy to make.
Not having to worry about Rivers running wild, Bare was able to concentrate on Collins, striking him out. There were 2 down, the no-hitter still alive.
But Bochte worked a walk, bringing up the Angels' All-Star 3rd baseman, Chalk. (Hey, someone had to make it)
Bare's shot at immortality sailed into left field on Chalk's no-doubt single, ending the no-hitter. Worse, the Tigers' lead was now at risk. The Angels had loaded the bases for light-hitting catcher Ellie Rodriguez. You had to believe this would be the final batter of the night for Bare if Rodriguez reached base.
But Bare shrugged off the disappointment of losing the no-hitter, Rodriguez struck out swinging. Bare may have lost the no-no, but still had a chance at his first career shutout.
With Kirkwood still on the mound, the Tigers tacked on 3 more runs to turn the game into a laffer. Meyer led off with a single, taking 2nd on Nettles error. He would score on Freehan's 3rd hit of the night, an RBI single. Wanting a left-lefty matchup, Williams called for the wily veteran reliever, Jim Brewer.
The aging lefty wasn't wily enough.
Both Oglivie and Rodriguez singled, loading the bases. Brewer was left in to face Veryzer, who rudely greeted him with a 2 RBI single. Freehan and Oglivie scored to give the Tigers a rare 7-0 lead.
Normally, I would say GAME OVER with a 7-run lead in the 8th against the cellar dwelling Angels. But the Tigers are even worse, so I'm not counting my White Owls before they're smoked.
Bare allowed a lead off single to Miley in the bottom of the 8th. No problem, Bare's sinking fastball was still making the Angels look like, well, Angels. Nettles ended any chance of the Angels kicking up their heels by grounding to Veryzer, who would turn the double play.
In the top of the 9th, Dick Lange became the 4th Angels pitcher of the night. He became the 4th to also allow a run, Freehan capping off his huge 4 hit night by doubling home Meyer, making the final score 8-0 Tigers.
Bare would nail down the shutout and end the looooong losing streak in style, setting the Angels down in order in the bottom of the 9th.
I remember what this was called....let me think...oh, yeah. A victory!
Game over, the 19 game losing streak is no more. The Tigers miraculously avoided joining the A's in the record books.
I'm more relieved than happy. One win does not forgive 19 freaking losses.
- The Tigers historic losing streak left them just shy of infamy. They ended up a game short of the AL record of 20, set by Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in 1916 and equaled by Mack's A's in 1943. The Tigers would have had work to equal the MLB record of 23 games, set by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961. Must be something in the water in Philly.
- The Tigers had their fair share of hard luck during the streak. They lost 7 games by 1 run, 5 by 2 runs and 3 in extra innings. They were swept in a pair of double headers and lost a protested game as well.
- Mickey Lolich's record took the brunt of the streak, losing 4 of the 19 games, including starts where he allowed only 1 and 2 runs. Lolich's 4th loss of the stretch was last night, allowing 8 runs over 8 innings. The rubber armed lefty took one for the team.
- Strangely, the Tigers' team batting average rose from a lousy .246 to a slightly less lousy .249 during the streak. Pounding out 16 hits, they unloaded all their frustrations on the Angels tonight.
- If there were a team the Tigers should and could end the streak against, the Angels were it. They came into tonight's matchup 18 games back of the Athletics, battling (if you can call it that) the White Sox for last place in the AL West.
- Apparently the Tigers have to shut out the opposition to get a win. The last time the Tigers won was July 28th, Vern Ruhle holding the Yankees scoreless in a 3-0 victory.
- When the streak started, the Tigers were 46-55, 15 games back of the first place Boston Red Sox. Their record now stands at 47-74, 26 games out of first. Might as well be a 100...
- After the game, it took Houk 5 attempts to light a victory cigar. He was definitely out of practice.
- His stogie now lit, Houk told the assembled media, "I'm glad it's over so I could get rid of you fellows!"
- Houk blamed injuries for their miserably long funk, trying to deflect blame away from a team slowly moving into rebuilding mode: "We've been playing good ball, but John Hiller got hurt and he's maybe the best reliever in our league. And then we got some other guys hurt and and we were still in every game, but we couldn't get the one man out."
- Bare admitted to getting stiff during the Tigers 7th inning rally. Though he "was happy to get the runs!"
- Freehan called Bare's 7th inning strike out of Rodiguez "a great pitch, maybe the most important of the night."
Ray Bare: The Tigers' 5th starter stepped up in a big way to end the streak. Too bad a no-hitter wasn't in the cards for the 26 year old righty.
Bill Freehan: The veteran backstop had been 2-13 over his past 5 games. Breaking out of his slump with 4 hits raised his average to .259 on the season.
Tom Veryzer: The young shortstop has struggled inn his first season as a starter, hitting only .233. He's shown signs of life over the past week, hitting .462 during a 4 game hitting steak. Unfortunately, Veryzer's OBP is still a God awful .277.
Danny Meyer: Playing 1st base tonight, Meyer's 3 hit game moved his average up to .267, the highest its been since early June.
Not tonight! The streak is over and infamy has been averted! May we never speak of these miserable 2 1/2 weeks ever again.
GAME 120 PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Willie Horton, by acclimation. The veteran DH was the Tigers' only bright sport with a pair of singles in an 8-0 shellacking by the Angels.
- Ray Bare went 1-6 the rest of the way to finish the 1975 season 8-13, posting a 4.48 ERA in 150 2/3 innings. He remained in the rotation for another season, posting 7-8 record and 4.63 ERA in 1976. He never won another game in the bigs. Bare was sent down to Triple A Evansville in May of 1977 with an 12.56 ERA. Bare never made it back to the show and would be out of baseball by the end of 1978.
- Bruce Bochte was a free thinker, the antithesis of today's highly paid athletes. In 1982 the 9 year veteran hit .297 for the Mariners and abruptly retired. Why? The 31 year old Bochte believed the rapidly rising salaries in baseball were ruining the game. Seriously. After a single season of retirement, the A's lured Bochte back into the game in 1984. He would retire for good after the 1986 season.
- Ben Oglivie was part of one of the most lopsided trades in Tigers history. Despite hitting 21 home runs in 1977, the Tigers believed Oglivie (whom they had acquired for fan favorite Dick McAuliffe after the 1973 season) was a platoon outfielder. In need of pitching, GM Jim Campbell sent Oglivie to the Brewers for pitchers Jim Slaton and Rich Folkers. Just entering his prime and finally allowed to play every day, Oglivie would blossom into a middle of the order masher for Harvey's Wallbangers. Oglivie averaged an .835 OPS and 27 home runs a season from 1978-82, with a high of 41 homers to lead the AL in 1980. Oglivie would spend the remainder of his 16 year career with the Brewers. Slaton was 17-11 for the Tigers in 1978, then immediately bolted back to the Brewers in free agency after the season. Folkers was released, never playing a game in Detroit. The Tigers essentially traded a future home run champ in order to rent a league average starter for 1 season.
- After the 1975 season the Tigers traded Leon Roberts as part of a multi-player package to the Astros, receiving a journeyman catcher (Milt May) and a pair of journeyman pitchers (Dave Roberts and Jim Crawford) in return. May was to replace the retired Bill Freehan, only to be sold to the White Sox in May 1979. Lance Parrish had proved to be the future at catcher. Roberts lost 17 games for the Tigers in 1976, and sold to the Cubs the following season. Crawford hung around for 2 years as a swingman out of the pen. As for Leon Roberts, he would have one excellent season (22 HR, 92 RBI, .301/364/.515) in 1978 with the Mariners, but could never duplicate it. He would go on to have an 11 year career as a platoon outfielder, playing for 6 different teams.
- After 2 unimpressive seasons in the Tigers' lineup and highly touted prospect Steve Kemp ready to make his debut in 1977, Danny Meyer was left unprotected in the 1976 expansion draft. Meyer was selected by the Mariners, where he would become a fixture in their lineup for the next 5 seasons. Meyer wasn't great, but he did stick around in the bigs for 12 years and put up a pair of 20 home run seasons when it still meant something.
- Once upon a time, shortstops were not expected to hit more than their weight and Tom Veryzer was your stereotypical good field, no hit shortstop. Her was groomed to replace one of the best glovemen to ever play the position, Ed Brinkman, who was traded after the 1974 season. Veryzer had cups of coffee with the Tigers in 1973-74, then took over in 1975. In 1977, his 3rd season as the Tigers' starter, Veryzer hit .197/.230/.254. In the meantime, a 19 year old Alan Trammell was a September call up. Seeing their shortstop of the future was now their shortstop of the present, the Tigers traded Veryzer to the Indians for outfielder Charlie Spikes after the season. Spikes never lived up to his early potential and was released by the Tigers in September 1978. Veryzer would be the Tribe's own no hit, good field shortstop for the next 4 seasons, finishing his 12 year career with the Cubs in 1984. Of course, Trammell helped change offensive expectations at short for all of baseball, becoming one of the standard bearers at the position for the next 19 years
- The Tigers would trade 33 year old fan favorite Willie Horton to the Rangers for immortal reliever Steve Foucault after the 1976 season. Foulcault was a serviceable arm, saving 13 games in 1977, but was released mid-season 1978. Horton bounced around the league as a bat for hire, with one last hurrah (29 HR, 106 RBI) with the (guess who?) the Mariners in 1979. Horton would end his career in Seattle, retiring after the 1980 season.
- Bill Freehan was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame caliber career in 1975. He became the Tigers' starting catcher in 1963 and would remain a fixture behind the plate until his retirement at the end of the 1976 season. Freehan's workload makes today's catchers look like utter wimps, backstopping more than 140 games 3 times and over 130 twice. Freehan made 11 All-Star teams, finished in the top 3 of MVP voting in 1967-68, won 5 straight Gold Gloves from 1965-69 and posted a career .752 OPS despite playing the majority of his career in the second dead ball era. Freehan retired as the best catcher to play the game who no one outside of Detroit remembers, including the BBWAA.