Sunday, March 26, 2017

I love the 80s - 1981 Detroit Tigers

Last time in this Series, we looked at the Philadelphia Phillies, the 1980 World Series champs. The Tigers were in a very different place that season, but there was reason to be optimistic that the decade would be kind to them. In 1980, the team posted a winning record and outscored their opponents, but ultimately finished in the middle of the pack in the AL East. They made further progress in 1981, as their young talent continued to develop. The climbed one more rung on the ladder, finishing in 3rd place in the division. 

Here are the cards!
. . . and the backs:

Donruss #5 Alan Trammell - Trammell led the Tigers in Hits, Runs, and batting average in 1980, winning a Gold Glove at Shortstop and making the AL All-Star squad. His 1981 numbers fell off a bit, with his average dropping nearly 50 points, but he remained a cornerstone of the franchise and would be a key member of the 1984 World Series squad. His defense earned him another Gold Glove in 1981 the second of four he would win in his career.

Fleer #470 Rick Peters - Switch hitting Rookie Center Fielder Rick Peters led the Tigers in Stolen Bases in 1980, and accrued  2.1 WAR. The following year the CF job was handed to Al Cowens, who moved over from Right Field to make room for Kirk Gibson. Peters would appear sporadically after 1980, shuttling between the minors and the big league club, playing his last game in 1986 for the Oakland A's. His Fleer card shows his crouched batting stance. 

The Detroit News Boys of Summer #62 Ernie Harwell - The only announcer to be traded for a player, Ernie Harwell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, receiving the Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcasting Excellence. Harwell was acquired from the Atlanta Crackers by Branch Rickey in 1948 to call games for the Dodgers while Red Barber was recovering from an ulcer. Harwell began calling radio play by play for the Tigers in 1960, coming to Detroit with the assistance of George Kell, the former player that was calling games the year before. The Detroit News issued a set in 1981 to commemorate 100 years of the paper and celebrate the Detroit Tigers, including Harwell was a no-brainer. 

Fleer #473 Tom Brookens - Brookens burst onto the scene in 1980, his first full season in Detroit. He took the Third Base job early on in the season, and didn't look back. Mixing a little power and a little speed, Brookens tied fellow rookie Rick Peters with stolen bases and hit ten homers for the Tigers. Brookens would settle in as a kind of utility man in the 80s, playing all around the infield and even in Right Field from time to time. Towards the end of his career, he was a valuable bat in the DH spot or off the bench. While not a star by any means, Brookens was nonetheless a valuable role player.

Donruss #370 Sparky Anderson - Getting the most out of his players and putting them in a position to succeed was the hallmark of Sparky Anderson's tenure in Detroit. Coming over from The Big Red Machine in 1979, Sparky was never much for subtleties - in the press conference announcing his hiring, Anderson beamed about his young talented club saying that they would win a world series within 5 years. He earned the nickname "Captain Hook" in Cincinnati, but with Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and later Frank Tanana in his starting rotation it didn't come up as often as it did with the Reds. His prophecy would come true for the Tigers as (spoiler alert!)  won the 1984 World Series, and Sparky became the first manager to win in both the AL and NL. 

Fleer #481 Kirk Gibson - Another 1980 Rookie, Gibson was still a raw talent for the Tigers. His manager's focus on fundamentals and routine would grind on Gibson's instincts, though he would later credit Sparky Anderson's influence on making Gibson an effective major leaguer. A local boy from Pontiac, MI, Gibson had high expectations, but it would take a few seasons for him to deliver on the potential he promised. He blossomed at just the right time for the Tigers and had his first of five straight 25+ homer seasons in 1984. He was the MVP of the 1984 ALCS hitting .417 for the Tigers. Early flashes of the player he would become came in 1981, when he hit a career high .328 and racked up 2.4 WAR in the strike shortened season. 

Topps #150 Mark Fidrych - This is a sunset card for Fidrych, whose final appearance in a major league game came in 1980. Fidrych was the 1976 Rookie of the Year and his story was among the most compelling of the late 70s. Following a sterling rookie campaign, Fidrych experienced various injury problems that prevented him from surpassing 100 innings in a season again. A knee injury in Spring Training of 1977 was followed by a rotator cuff tear. His control and velocity would diminish, but his star continued to burn bright.

Drake's Big Hitters #27 Steve Kemp - Like Fidrych. Kemp's career ended far too soon as a result of injury. He was the Tiger's #1 pick in 1976. Kemp was coming off an 1979 All-Star appearance and duplicated a 20+ Homer and 100+ RBI campaign. Kemp was a big bat in the Tigers lineup through 1982, when he was traded to the White Sox for Chet Lemon. Kemp would have a solid season for the Pale Hose, but was on the move again for 1984. He was hit by a pitch in the eye and would attempt a comeback in 1988 for the Rangers. He played in 13 more games before retiring at the age of 33.

Topps #392 Lance Parrish - The Tigers had anchors up the middle at Shortstop with Alan Trammell, at second base with Lou Whitaker, and behind the plate with Lance Parrish. Parrish also provided some serious damage at the plate, leading the Tigers in homers in 1980 and 81. He was an All-Star in 1980 and won the Silver Slugger award as well. His defense wasn't bad either, winning 3 Gold Gloves in the 80s. For his career he averaged over 25 homers 25 doubles and 85 Runs Batted In per season. 



1 comment:

  1. Excellent write up! I love a good lesson on Tiger history. Way before my days as a Tiger fan, in 1981 I rarely watch any baseball. I have a lot to catch up on! A little bittersweet to see Fidrych's sun set so very soon.