The 2014 Tigers season marks the 30-year anniversary of the 1984 World Championship Tigers, the "Bless You Boys" crew which lends this site its name. If you were around to witness that season, you know you saw something extremely special, probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. If you weren't around, well, read on. In honor of that amazing group of players, here are ten things you should know about the 1984 Detroit Tigers.
1. They started the season by going 9-0, and went 35-5 in their first 40 games
Those first few games of the season don't really matter, right? You win, you lose, but it's a long season so let's not get too crazy about streaks. But this was different. The Tigers started the season with a five-game road trip, and by the time they came home to Detroit for their home opener, the team was 5-0 and sitting 1.5 games ahead in first place - and they promptly won the home opener as well.
Manager Sparky Anderson wrote in his diary, "No Tiger team since 1911 had started the season with six straight wins." Incredibly, when the streak came to an end, the fans in Detroit booed. Sparky said he didn't mind, because "fans expect perfection because they pay for it." What a fanbase, eh?
By May 24, the Tigers had played 40 games and stood at 35-5, sitting a ridiculously comfortable 8.5 games ahead of the nearest competition. They had tied the record of 17 straight wins on the road, set by the 1916 New York Giants.
2. Three players hit 20 or more home runs, but the team did not lead the league in batting average, slugging, or OPS
While they well outperformed their Pythagorean Expectation of 99-63 by finishing the season 104-58, and led the league in RBI's, the team's modest .276 batting average was behind Boston's .283 average, and their .774 OPS was behind Boston's .782 OPS.
But Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, and Chet Lemon all hit 20 or more home runs (33, 27, and 20, respectively), and more importantly, five of their regular starters had an on-base-percentage over .350, giving the team a league-leading on-base-percentage of .342. Five regular starters gave them between 60-80 RBI's, even though no single player topped 100 RBI's for the season. Kirk Gibson became the first Tiger to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, Alan Trammell swiped 19 bags of his own, and the team combined for 254 doubles (seventh in the league) and 46 triples (third in the league).
In short: the team was very well balanced offensively.
3. Their closer was an absolute workhorse who won both the MVP and the Cy Young Award
Willie Hernandez was a brand new acquisition during the 1983 offseason, and Sparky had told General Manager Bill Lajoie, "You get that guy and we'll win it next year." The screwball-throwing lefty went on to save 32 games while posting an ERA of 1.92, a WHIP of 0.941, and a nasty K/9 of 7.2 - enough to win the 1984 Cy Young Award and the league MVP.
But perhaps what is more amazing about Willie Hernandez is how much he pitched. He ended the season with just over 140 innings pitched - that's more than some starting pitchers threw in 2013 (Zach McAllister, Clay Buchholz, Jason Hammel, and Barry Zito, for instance). Some of the Big Name Closers of 2013 - Kimbrel, Papelbon, Holland, Rivera, Nathan, and Balfour, for example - threw less than half that amount, never even getting to 70 innings pitched.
Hernandez pitched in 80 games in 1984, and in more than half of them (56 percent) he pitched more than one inning. In a full quarter of those games, he pitched two or more innings in relief. And in two of those games, he came on in the sixth inning and pitched a full four innings in relief.
They just don't make closers like Willie anymore. Sparky gets the last word: "Don't ask me to explain Willie. How do you explain a miracle? ... It doesn't matter if Willie is pitching against a righthander or a lefty. Sometimes I don't think Willie even knows."
4. On the fourth game of the season, their ace threw a no-hitter
This is undoubtedly why so many Tigers fans who experienced the 1984 season want to see Jack Morris get into the Hall of Fame. His WHIP (1.282), K/9 (5.5), and ERA (3.60) were all good without being great, but perception is everything.
When your ace pitcher comes out for only his second start of the season and tosses a no-hitter on national television (it was a Saturday, and NBC had opted to broadcast this game as their first "Game of the Week" for the season), he seems dominant - especially when he strikes out eight along the way. (Remember, it had been more than 25 years since Jim Bunning had tossed the last Tigers no-hitter.)
Even Sparky wrote, after the game, "Jack Morris is the best pitcher in baseball. He proved it today."
5. They finished the season 15 games ahead of their nearest contender
Jack Morris' no-hitter put the team up to a 4-0 record, and the Tigers were finally alone in first place, if only by half a game. But that was it - they never shared first place again for the rest of the season. In that season, the Tigers set an American League record for number of consecutive days alone in first place, sitting in that spot for 177 days without interruption.
After a June 8 victory against Baltimore, the Tigers were never fewer than 5.5 games ahead for the rest of the season, and when they clinched the AL East on September 18 they were an astonishing 13 games ahead of the Blue Jays, their nearest competitor.
6. They only lost one game in the entire postseason
This was back in the days when the ALCS and NLCS were settled in a best-of-five series, but that hardly takes away from the fact that when it came right down to it, the Tigers swept the Royals in three games straight. It took 11 innings in Game 2, and Game 3 was a very close 1-0 finish (Milt Wilcox threw a spectacular eight-inning two-hitter), but that's what the Tigers were good at in 1984. They were 11-2 (.846) in extra innings games, and 25-11 (.694) in one-run games.
In the World Series, they were just as dominant, only dropping Game 2, and only because Dan Petry threw a bad pitch in the fifth inning that wound up being a three-run home run, turning a 3-2 Tigers lead into a 5-3 Padres lead. With the series tied at one game a-piece, the Tigers proceeded to win the next three games in a row at home, and that was that. It was a short postseason, and there was never really any doubt who was going to win it.
7. Their manager became the first in history to win 100+ games in both leagues
Prior to joining the Detroit Tigers as their manager in 1979, Sparky Anderson had managed the Cincinnati Reds during their "Big Red Machine" years. The Reds, who were playing with a heavily stacked deck in the form of legends like Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose, won 108 and 102 games in 1975 and 1976, respectively, and also won the World Series for Sparky in both of those years.
With the World Series win in Detroit in 1984, Sparky also became the first manager in history to win a World Championship in both leagues.
8. They barely played break-even baseball in the month of August
Every team struggles at some point, right? The seemingly untouchable team of 1984 was no exception. In the month of August, they went 16-15 for a win percentage of .516. They lost three games to Seattle, three to Boston, and dropped four in a row to Kansas City at the beginning of the month.
Sparky wrote, after the fourth loss to the Royals, "I have never felt lower than today ... thank God we've got that eight game lead." Oddly enough, the Tigers began the month with an 11 game lead, and ended the month with a 9.5 game lead. How? Mostly because the rest of their division did this in August (Detroit is at the "Zero Line" on top):
1984 August Standings - Games Behind
9. They brought "the wave" into the baseball mainstream
Ok, this may or may not be entirely true. Sparky wrote, "The Wave, which began spontaneously one wildly delirious Friday evening at Tiger Stadium, quickly became the rage in all major league parks."
Wikipedia says that Krazy George Henderson, a professional cheerleader, introduced it for the first time at a baseball game during the 1981 ALCS. But Wikipedia also more or less confirms what Sparky said: Michigan Wolverines fans were doing the wave over in Ann Arbor in 1983, and those same fans brought it to Tiger Stadium in 1984, so when "The Tigers won the World Series that year and appeared on many televised games throughout 1984 ... people all over America saw it."
So, yeah. The wave. It's totally our fault, fellow Tigers fans.
10. They were one of only three teams in MLB history to lead the league from start to finish
As mentioned earlier, the Tigers' crazy 9-0 start meant that they were tied for first right from the start, had sole claim on first place from the fourth game of the season onward, and never relinquished that spot. At the time that the Tigers accomplished this feat in 1984, only the 1923 Giants and the 1927 Yankees (yes, those Yankees, the "Gehrig and Ruth" Yankees) had done the same thing.