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October 10, 2006 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-10-10

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - The Michigan Daily - 11
Losing bistory doesn't deprive Tigers offim

(AP) - When he left Detroit
in 1995, after 17 years as man-
ager of the Tigers, the venerable
Sparky Anderson said, "I ain't
here no more."
It was like the baseball life was
sucked out of the Motor City with
his leaving. The Tigers have had
six managers since Anderson and
none of them, until Jim Leyland
this season, could produce a win-
ning record. To say nothing of a
championship.
The Tigers, who lost 119
games just three years ago, open
the best-of-seven ALCS against
the Oakland Athletics on the road
Tuesday night.
For a decade, however, it just
wasn't much fun to hang out at old
Tiger Stadium or the new Com-
erica Park. And that seemed out
of character for both the town and
the team.
Let's be honest. Detroit is a
medium market at best in the base-
ball world. In their long history,
the Tigers have only appeared in
the World Series nine times, win-
ning just four; they were champs in
1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984. Hock-
eytown will never be mistaken for
Baseballtown.
Yet that doesn't mean there
hasn't been some fun over the
past 50 years or so. Even when
the Tigers struggled on the field,
they still managed to employ
some of baseball's most memo-
rable characters.
Well-traveled players like
Champ Summers, Richie Hebner
and Rusty Staub left their marks
during stops in Detroit. Ron
LeFlore and Gates Brown, both
of whom had seen the insides of
a jail, became fan favorites in the
1970s and 1980s.
In 1976, Birdmania swept the
country as rookie right-hander
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych charmed
and captivated crowds, talking to
the ball, patting down the mound,
winning 19 games. A knee injury
the following season led to arm
trouble and Fidrych was soon out
of baseball.
Cecil Fielder hit 51 homers,
which was a big deal in 1990.
Fielder, who later filled out
enough to be called "Big Daddy,"
now has a son, Prince, playing in
the majors.
Alan Trammell and Sweet
Lou Whitaker became the lon-
gest-running double-play combi-
nation in baseball, playing 1,918
games ,together from 1977-95.
Trammell won four Gold Gloves,
Whitaker three. Trammell was
selected to six All Star teams,
Whitaker five. Whitaker showed
up for the All Star game in Min-
nesota without his uniform and
had to wear a jersey purchased at
a concession stand.

Aurelio Lopez, a right-handed
reliever known as "Senor Smoke,"
teamed with lefty Willie Hernan-
dez to give the Tigers a formidable
bullpen in the early 1980s, includ-
ing the 1984 championship season.
Lopez later would become mayor
of his small town in Mexico.
Mayo Smith, the beloved man-
ager of the 1968 team, now has a
society named after him. It has
become a good source of some
baseball research.
It is the players who earned titles
for Detroit who are best-remem-
bered these days. Some of them,
like Al Kaline, are now in the Hall
of Fame. Kaline, too, played on
some colorful teams.
His team that won the 1968
World Series title, for example,
featured pitchers Denny McLain
and Mickey Lolich, a first-base-
man called "Stormin' Norman"
Cash, outfielders Willie Horton,
Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley,
and catcher Bill Freehan. Togeth-
er, they helped heal a town that
had been torn apart by racial riot-
ing the year before.
McLain, maybe the last pitcher
who will ever win 30 games, went
31-6 in 1968, but it was the lefty
Lolich who won three games as
the Tigers defeated the St. Louis
Cardinals in seven games.
McLain played the organ, fre-
quently flew his own plane to Las
Vegas, and did two stints in prison
after his baseball days were over.
The fun-loving Cash once took a
table leg to the plate for an at-bat
against fire-balling Nolan Ryan.
"I had as much chance with
that as with a bat, the way he was
throwing," Cash said.
Major league baseball had
moved to a playoff system and
Smith had been replaced by bat-
tling Billy Martin by 1972 when
the Tigers won the AL East. The
Tigers had to get past Oakland
if they wanted to return to the
World Series. They couldn't do it.
The A's had a powerful team that
included a young Reggie Jackson,
Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and
Blue Moon Odom.
Detroit pitcher Lerrin LeGrow
hit Bert Campaneris in the ankle
in Game 2 in Oakland. Campa-
neris, in turn, hurled his bat at
LeGrow, just missing his head. A
bench-clearing brawl followed.
"That's the dirtiest thing I ever
saw in my whole life in baseball,"
Martin said afterward. "He could
have killed my man."
Sparky took over when Les Moss
was fired early in 1979. Detroit fell
in love with him almost at once.
He'd make fractured proclama-
tions like "Pain don't hurt you"
and "That Jose Canseco, he's got
a body like a Greek goddess" and
folks acted like they understood.

Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen tries to complete a double play as Yankees' shortstop Alex Rodriguez tries to take him out during Game 4 of the ALDS.

Anderson promised the Tigers
would be winners in five years. He
was able to produce in 1984.
That magical season is perhaps
best-known for Detroit's 35-5
start, including a no-hitter by Jack
Morris. Kirk Gibson hit two hom-
ers, including a dramatic eighth-
inning blast off Goose Gossage
as the Tigers closed out the San
Diego Padres in five games to win
the World Series title.
Shortly after the last out, howev-
er, fans at the corner of Michigan
and Trumbull rioted. A memora-
ble photo by AP's Robert Kozloff
went around the world showing 17-
year-old Kenneth "Bubba" Helms,
an eight-grade dropout from the
suburbs, holding a Tigers pennant
in front of an overturned burning
police car across the street from
Tiger Stadium.
The last hurrah came in 1987.
Tigers general manager Bill
Lajoie traded a minor league teen-
ager named John Smoltz to the

Atlanta Braves for veteran pitcher a hometown guy from Detroit
Doyle Alexander. Alexander won Catholic Central High, tossed a
all nine of his starts down the complete game 1-0 triumph in the
stretch. Smoltz went on to do all Sunday clincher. But the Tigers
right, too. lost in the playoffs to the Minne-
The Tigers, with many of the sota Twins and Detroit said good-
same starters from the 1984 club, bye to postseason baseball.
battled Toronto down the stretch The two constants through all
in '87, needing a sweep of a final those years were Ernie Harwell,
three-game series against the who became the "Voice" of Detroit
Blue Jays to clinch the AL East baseball in 1960, and Tiger Stadi-
again. They were perhaps three um. Harwell was the broadcaster
of the best games those Tigers for almost 40 years, missing only
ever played. 1992 after an unpopular firing.
Gibson and Larry Herndon hit The stadium, then called
key homers during the weekend Navin Field, opened the same
and veteran lefty Frank Tanana, day Boston's Fenway Park did

in 1912. Newspapers of the time,
however, were filled with stories
of the Titanic, which sank the
day before.
They played the last game in
Tiger Stadium in 1999. Detroit
rookie Robert Fick hit a grand slam
in the eighth to help the Tigers beat
Kansas City 8-2. As he rounded
the bases, Fick pointed toward
heaven, honoring his father, who
had recently died of cancer.
The old home plate from Tiger
Stadium was moved to Comerica
Park, a few blocks away. They
might as well have flown it to the
moon. Until now.

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