When it comes to the Detroit Tigers, there is one phrase that just about every fan recognizes and relates to the team. Some recognize the phrase because they lived through it and others because of stories they’ve been told. That phrase is, “Bless You Boys,” and it was used to describe the 1984 Detroit Tigers and their amazing season that ended with a World Series title. The phrase itself was actually coined by the late Al Ackerman, a former TV sportscaster for WDIV Detroit, during the magical 1984 season. Ackerman, according to former WDIV anchor Mort Crim, used the phrase sarcastically following a Tigers’ losing streak.
Expected to contend, Tigers come out on fire
After winning 92 games and missing out on the Major League Baseball Playoffs in 1983, the Tigers signed free-agent first baseman Darrell Evans and traded for Dave Bergman and one of the keys to the 1984 team, Willie Hernandez. With those moves, in addition to bringing back Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, and Dan Petry, just to name a few, many believed the Tigers were poised to make a run at glory.
Manager Sparky Anderson used to say, “you can’t tell anything about a baseball team until 40 games have been played.” Though Sparky may or may not have really believed that, the 1984 Tigers made the best of their first 40 games out of the gate. In fact, the Tigers did not take long to prove they were focused and ready to roll as they won their first nine games of the season, including an 8-1 victory on Opening Day as Jack Morris dominated the Minnesota Twins. After dropping their first game of the campaign, a 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers immediately went on a seven-game winning streak to move to 16-1 on the season. By the time 40 games were in the book, Detroit sat at the top of baseball with an astounding 35-5 record, a mark that has never been reached in Major League Baseball history.
Wire to Wire
Following the 35-5 start, the Tigers fell back down to earth a bit, dropping four of their next five and 11 out of their next 20 overall to fall to 44-16 through 60 games. By the time the MLB All-Star Game rolled around, the Tigers were 57-27 and held a 7.0 game lead in the American League East. Despite being 30 games over.500, there were still plenty of games to be played and the Detroit team that once looked to be unbeatable was suddenly catchable. Or so it seemed.
After dropping their first game after the All-Star break, the Tigers caught fire in a big way, winning 11 of 12 to extend their lead in the East to 11.5 games. By the time the 1984 regular season came to an end, the Tigers led the division wire to wire as they cruised to a 104-58 record, 15.0 games better than the second place Toronto Blue Jays in the A.L. East. Other than a couple of scattered four-game losing streaks, Detroit was able to put out the fire whenever they needed to throughout the season, earning themselves a spot in the 1984 MLB Playoffs.
The Tigers had a balanced attack at the plate in 1984, including stellar performances from Alan Trammell (.314 BA, 14 HRs, 69RBIs), Chet Lemon (.287 BA, 20 HRs, 76 RBIs), and Kirk Gibson (.282, 27 HRs, 91 RBIs). Joining that trio was catcher Lance Parrish, who not only did a great job handling the pitching staff but had a team-high 33 home runs and 97 RBIs, despite hitting just .237. As far as pitching goes, Jack Morris (19), Dan Petry (18), and Milt Wilcox (17) combined to win 54 games but it was the newly acquired Willie Hernandez who stole the show out of the bullpen. In a whopping 80 appearances, Hernandez was 9-3 overall with 32 saves. That, coupled with a 1.92 ERA was enough to win him the American League Cy Young Award and the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award.
American League Champions
In order to get a chance at the World Series, the Tigers first had to get by the American League West-winning Kansas City Royals (84-78) in the American League Championship Series. During the regular season, Detroit did not exactly dominate Kansas City, taking seven of 12 games, but the ALCS would be a different story. The Tigers took Game 1 8-1 in Kansas City behind a brilliant performance by Jack Morris (7 IP, 1 run) and a home run and 3 RBIs by Alan Trammell. Game 2 went to extra innings but a 2-run double by Johnny Grub in the top of the 11th propelled the Tigers to a 5-3 victory, setting themselves up for a sweep in front of their home fans at Tiger Stadium. Game 3 was all about dominant pitching as Milt Wilcox of the Tigers and Charlie Liebrandt of the Royals combined to allow just a single run as Detroit came away with a 1-0 win. With the victory, the Tigers had swept the Royals and were off to the World Series to take on the National League Champions. Kirk Gibson was named the Most Valuable Player of the ALCS after batting .417 with a home run and two RBIs.
World Series Champions!
Heading into the 1984 MLB Playoffs, many experts believed the Tigers were on a collision course with National League MVP Ryne Sandberg and the Chicago Cubs, who went 96-65 in the N.L. East but the San Diego Padres (92-70) had a different idea as they defeated the Cubs three games to two in the NLCS to move on to the World Series.
Game 1 took place in San Diego and featured a pitching matchup between Tigers’ ace Jack Morris and Mark Thurmond of the Padres. During the regular season, Thurmond won 14 games while posting a 2.97 ERA but he was not able to keep the Tigers bats in check as they managed three runs on seven hits over the first five innings. Morris was shaky in the first inning as the Padres pushed across two runs, but that was all they would get in the game as he went the distance without allowing another run. When all was said and done, the Tigers escaped with a 3-2 victory behind Morris’ performance on the mound and a two-run home run from Larry Herndon.
The Tigers wasted little time in Game 2 by scoring three runs in the top of the first inning off Padres starter, Ed Whitson. Whitson was pulled from the game with just two outs in the first frame and replaced by Andy Hawkins who stymied the Detroit offense through the top of the sixth. Tigers’ starter Dan Petry was not himself on this day as he gave up five runs on eight hits in 5.1 innings of work. Those five runs were enough for the Padres as they held on for a 5-3 win to knot the series at one game apiece.
Both teams traveled to Detroit for Game 3 and the home cooking must have been just what the doctor ordered for the Tigers as they used a solid performance from Milt Wilcox (6 IP, 1 ER) and a two-run home run by 3B Marty Castillo in the second inning to seal a 5-2 win. 51,970 fans filled Tiger Stadium on this Friday night in October and they certainly left satisfied as the Tigers took a two games to one lead in the series.
The Padres were hoping to get off to a quick start in Game 4 but Tigers’ shortstop Alan Trammell had another idea as he hit a pair of two-run home runs over the first three innings, sending the 52,130 fans in attendance into a frenzy. That, along with a second-straight complete game by Jack Morris, was more than enough to give the Tigers a 4-2 victory and three games to one series lead over the Padres. With the win, Detroit was just one win away from winning their first World Series title since the historic 1968 season.
Game 5 marked the fourth time in five games that the Tigers’ bats were able to score at least one run in the first inning. This time around the used a two-run home run from Kirk Gibson and an RBI single by Chet Lemon off of Padres’ starter Mark Thurmond to jump out to a 3-0 lead after one. Unfortunately, for the Tigers and their fans, San Diego came storming back to tie the game 3-3 after four innings. After shutting down the Padres in the top of the fifth, Gibson scored on a sacrifice fly by Rusty Kuntz to put the Tigers on top 4-3. Following a solo shot by Tigers’ catcher Lance Parrish off of Padres reliever Goose Gossage in the bottom of the seventh, San Diego added a run of their own in the top of the eighth to cut the Detroit lead to 5-4. This is when one of the most memorable at-bats in Detroit Tigers’ history took place. With Lou Whitaker on second and Marty Castillo on third, Gibson stepped to the plate once again, this time against Gossage, a pitcher who owned him in the past. Gibby had already homered earlier in the game and with first base open and two outs, intentionally walking him seemed like the easy call. But Gossage was able to convince Padres’ manager Dick Williams into letting him go after Gibson. While Gossage and Williams were conferencing at the mound, Sparky Anderson could be heard yelling at Gibson from the Tigers’ dugout, “he don’t wanna walk you” as Gibby prepared for his infamous at-bat. Anderson was spot on as Gossage went right after the Tigers’ slugger and paid the price as Gibson hit a moon-shot into the upper deck in right field to give Detroit an 8-4 lead heading into the ninth. After getting Garry Templeton to ground out, Tigers’ closer Willie Hernandez gave up a single to Bruce Bochy. With one out, Hernandez was able to force Alan Wiggins to foul out to the catcher, bringing up 1984 MLB hit leader Tony Gwynn to the plate as the Padres’ last chance to stay alive. The Tigers’ closer took care of business by getting Gwynn to fly out to Larry Herndon in left field, giving the Tigers their fourth World Series Championship in franchise history.
Alan Trammell took home World Series MVP honors after batting .450 with two home runs and six RBIs against the Padres. With the win, Sparky Anderson became the first manager in MLB history to win a World Series in both the American League and the National League, as he had previously won titles with the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and 1976.
There have certainly been some amazing moments in the history of the Detroit Tigers but the 1984 ‘Bless You Boys’ team will always have a special place in the hearts of millions.
*Credit to Baseball Reference for all stats used in this piece.