Was there any doubt?
When we polled our dear readers to see who they thought was the best Detroit Tigers club of all-time, we expected the 1984 team to win. But to run away with nearly 60 percent of all votes, with so many other great Tigers teams to look back on over the years? That was a little surprising.
Then again, it shouldn’t be a shock. After all, it’s what the ‘84 Tigers did to their competition. They won the first nine games of the season, sweeping the Twins, White Sox, Rangers, and Red Sox before finally dropping a game to the Kansas City Royals. The Tigers were already three games up on their AL East competition just two weeks into the season.
And the gap only grew from there. Following that first loss, the Tigers ran off another seven-game win streak, improving to 16-1 before suffering their second loss of the year. Then, following a series loss (!) against the Red Sox in early May, they won another 16 of 17 games. The result? A 35-5 record on May 24, unmatched as the best 40-game start in MLB history. The Tigers had an 8 1⁄2 game lead over their competition at that point, and as manager Sparky Anderson feared, it was basically “World Series or bust” for the Tigers at that point.
Detractors (if there really are any) will note that the ‘84 club coasted after that. Their 69-53 record from that point forward pales in comparison to their white-hot 40-game start. However, those few poor souls who can’t enjoy fun (we assume) fail to note that even Detroit’s .566 win percentage after their first 40 games still would have won the AL East in 1984. No other AL team won 90 games, and the 104-win Tigers finished 15 games ahead of their competition by season’s end.
And if you think the Tigers “limped in” to the playoffs (despite a 17-10 September)? They silenced any remaining doubters from there, sweeping the ALCS and taking four of five from the San Diego Padres to clinch the team’s first championship in 16 years.
As you might imagine, these Tigers are at or near the top of most statistical categories in franchise history. They are the only Detroit club to win 104 games in a season, and one of just five 100-game winners in team history. Their raw runs scored and allowed totals aren’t particularly notable, but their 115 wRC+ is the best in team history. They also rank first in fWAR, with 55 in total (including an appropriate 35.5 WAR from their position players).
Incredibly, they also rank seventh in team history in attendance, with over 2.7 million fans having attended games. The six teams above them (as well as six of the next seven on the list) are all from 2006 or later.
Most amazing of all, however, might be the incredible balance that the ‘84 Tigers had. No pitcher amassed more than 4.2 fWAR, including AL MVP Willie Hernandez, at 3.2 fWAR in 140 1⁄3 innings. Alan Trammell and Chet Lemon were both above the six-win threshold, ranking among the top six players in the American League. But the Tigers also had five other players at 2.0 WAR or better, with five more worth roughly another win apiece. Eleven different players were league average or better at the plate (per wRC+) in at least 100 plate appearances, with three others — Barbaro Garbey, Lance Parrish, and Tom Brookens — within a stone’s throw of a 100 wRC+. Seven of their eight pitchers who threw at least 45 innings* were better than league average as well.
This balance might be why the ‘84 Tigers were overlooked when it came to Hall of Fame voting. Trammell and Jack Morris have been since recognized by the current iteration of the Veteran’s Committee as Hall of Famers, but Lou Whitaker is still on the outside looking in. Hopefully, that injustice is corrected when Sweet Lou’s name comes up on the committee’s ballot again in late 2019.
*All eight of those pitchers threw at least 90 innings, with a near-50 inning gap between relievers Doug Bair (93 2⁄3 IP) and Glenn Abbott (44 IP).
New addition: 2013 Tigers
I nearly added this club to the initial poll that we posted a couple weeks ago, but cut them because the group was already getting rather crowded — and we knew no one would unseat the ‘84 team anyway.
Still, you let me hear about it.
The ‘13 Tigers were arguably the best Detroit Tigers team I have seen in my lifetime. Though they “only” won 93 games, their pythagorean expected win-loss record was six games better than that, with other statistical measures even higher on what that club produced during the regular season. They were stacked from top to bottom, both in the lineup as well as in the starting rotation. They were the best team in baseball that year, for my money, and it still hurts that they weren’t able to win a championship.
But where do they rank in franchise history?
Which team is the second-best in Tigers franchise history?
This poll is closed