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Hot stove throwback: Mike Moore craps the bed as a Tigers starter

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In December 1992 the Tigers gave big bucks to a 33-year-old righthander who left his best stuff in Oakland and never got it back.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Fifth in a series looking back at high-profile free agent signings by the Tigers.

Prior to 1990, the Tigers' major plunges into free agency pretty much always involved position players.

That changed when Detroit signed right-handed starter Bill Gullickson from the Houston Astros on December 3, 1990.

It worked, briefly.

Gullickson, who turned 32 years old two months after signing his contract, gave the Tigers a 20-win season in 1991 but his flame quickly burnt out. His numbers from 1992-94 were a won/lost record of 31-27 with a robust ERA of 5.04.

But Gullickson was only one year into his nosedive when the Tigers rolled the dice on another righty starter.

Mike Moore had been a mainstay for two American League West teams the Seattle Mariners (1982-88) and the Oakland A's during their pennant-winning and World Series days (1989-92).

Moore won 66 games for the M's in seven years, but it was in Oakland where he flourished, as Moore also won 66 games for the A's, but in just four seasons.

In the 1989 Fall Classic, Moore won two games in the A's four-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants, allowing just nine hits and three runs in 13 innings.

But Moore was also 33 years old when the Tigers inked him to a three-year deal in December 1992.

No matter. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, a frequent offender of hyperbole, declared Moore "the second coming of Jack Morris."

The Tigers envisioned Moore pairing with Gullickson to give the rotation a veteran presence, to complement youngsters John Doherty and Mark Leiter.

Just before the regular season started in 1993, lefty David Wells was released by Toronto and the Tigers snatched him up.

No doubt, Sparky thought his rebuilt rotation would be just what the doctor ordered to go along with the team's heavy-hitting lineup, which featured Cecil Fielder, Rob Deer, Travis Fryman, Mickey Tettleton and Kirk Gibson.

The Tigers did improve from 75 wins to 85 from 1992 to '93, and they even briefly contended for the division as late as Labor Day, but it wasn't because of the starting rotation.

And it certainly wasn't because of Mike Moore.

As if Sparky's praise of Moore wasn't enough, the skipper tabbed Moore to be the Opening Day starter. To make matters even more dicey, that start would occur in Oakland, of all places.

It was a perfect storm, and it gushed rain all over the Tigers' parade.

On Opening Day, Moore lasted just 4 2/3 innings and surrendered four runs. The Tigers lost, 9-4.

Moore's next start was much worse. Pitching on three days' rest, Moore was blown up by the California Angels for five runs (four earned) in 1 1/3 innings. His ERA after two starts was 12.00.

Moore just couldn't get untracked. Sparky kept running him out there and Moore kept getting bombed. By mid-July, Moore's ERA was an unsightly 6.95. His performance was so awful that the Tiger Stadium crowd would start booing him as soon as he gave up his first hit which was usually in the first inning.

Moore did manage to pitch two one-hit shutouts within a month of each other between late-June and late-July, but it was far too late to save his nightmarish first season as a Tiger.

Moore did pitch much better in August and September, but the final numbers were still ugly: 13-9 with a 5.22 ERA and a WHIP of 1.48. His winning record was simply a matter of his being bailed out by the Tigers' heavy bats.

Moore never got going as a Tiger. In 1994 he was 11-10 with a 5.52 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. In 1995, things got downright nasty: 5-15/7.53/1.86. Among his 25 starts of 1995, Moore gave up six or more runs an astounding nine times.

The Tigers released Moore in early September of 1995 while the 35-year-old was riding a personal 13-decision losing streak and his ERA for his last nine starts was 10.89. The release may have saved Moore from the ignominy of a 20-loss season, which the right-hander almost suffered in Seattle in 1987, when he lost 19 decisions.

Looking back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Moore's decline may have actually started in 1992, his last year in Oakland. He won 17 games but his ERA was 4.12 and there was that being 33 years old thing.

Regardless, Mike Moore was clearly finished by the time he became a Tiger, probably as soon as the ink dried on the contract he signed.

Moore was never the second coming of Jack Morris, as Sparky Anderson proclaimed. Instead, Moore was the second coming of every ill-advised free agent pitcher signing that had ever occurred.

But he has his place in Tigers history, no matter how infamous.