1984 Detroit Tigers (Celebrating 40th Anniversary of Last Championship)

Forty years ago, the baseball world witnessed one of the best seasons a Major League team ever had. I’m not sure I would rank this team in the top ten all-time, but surely they rank in the top fifteen. I’m talking, of course, about the 1984 Detroit Tigers.

Years After Winning 1968 World Series

After winning the World Series in 1968, the Tigers had only one post-season appearance in the next 15 years. But it wasn’t because they didn’t have some good teams. Remember that, unlike today, only two teams from each league qualified for post-season play.

In 1969, the Tigers had a 90–72 record, and in 1971, they had a 91–71 record, but they had the misfortune of having the powerful Baltimore Orioles in their division and finished a distant second.

In 1972, they finished in first place but lost to the Oakland A’s in the playoffs three games to two. In 1975, the Tigers had their second-worst season in team history, winning only 57 games while losing 102.

Midway through the 1979 season, the Tigers hired Manager Sparky Anderson, and the team slowly improved, finishing 92–70 in 1983, their best record since 1968. But once again, it was the Baltimore Orioles who finished in first.

1984 Detroit Tigers World Series Season

The 1984 Detroit Tigers were stacked with talented players. Outfielders Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon, catcher Lance Parrish, second baseman Lou Whitaker, shortstop Alan Trammell, and pitchers Jack Morris and Willie Hernandez.

Lance Parrish and Willie Hernandez of Detroit Tigers
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Detroit Tigers' players Lance Parrish and Willie Hernandez baseball cards.

The team got off to a 9–0 start, and after seventeen games, the Tigers looked almost unbeatable with a 16–1 record. Forty games into the season, their record was 35–5. Unbelievable!

By June 24th, the Tigers had cooled off considerably but were still far ahead of the rest of the league with a 52–18 record.

After losing ten of their next eighteen games, Tiger fans grew concerned that the team was losing steam. It may have been a bit unrealistic to expect the team to keep up the pace of winning they had earlier in the season. By September 1st, Detroit still had an eight-and-a-half-game lead in their division. With only 27 games left in the season, it would take a complete collapse for the Tigers not to win their division.

They finished the season with a 104-58 record, fifteen games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays. Chet Lemon, Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, and Willie Hernandez made the All-Star Team.

Kirt Gibson smashed 27 home runs and drove in 91 runs, while Lance Parrish led the team with 33 home runs and 98 RBIs. Alan Trammell led the club in batting average at .314. Pitcher Jack Morris won 19 games, while Dan Petry won 18. Willie Hernandez, who won the AL MVP and Cy Young awards, saved 32 games in relief. Sparky Anderson won Manager of the Year.

Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson of Detroit Tigers
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Detroit Tiger players Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris baseball cards.

1984 MLB Playoffs

The Tigers played the KC Royals in the ALCS, and game one was no contest. Jack Morris pitched seven innings and allowed only one run. Willie Hernandez pitched the final two innings, allowing no runs. Larry Herndon, Lance Parrish, and Alan Trammell hit a home run. Trammell also had a triple and three RBIs. The final score was Detroit 8 KC 1.

Game two was much more difficult. Dan Petry pitched seven innings and allowed only two runs, but the usually unhittable Willie Hernandez gave up a run in relief, which tied the game and sent it into extra innings. Aurelio Lopez held the Royals scoreless for the next three innings.

Johnny Grubb hit a double in the 11th inning, driving in two runs to give Detroit a 5–3 victory. Kirk Gibson had a good game, hitting a double and a home run.

Game three was a classic pitcher’s duel. The Royals’ Charlie Leibrandt pitched a complete game and allowed only one run on three hits. Unfortunately for Leibrandt, one run was all the Tigers needed. Marty Castillo batted in Chet Lemon to give Detroit the victory. Milt Wilcox allowed only two hits and no runs in eight innings. Willie Hernandez finished the job in the ninth.

In game one of the World Series, Jack Morris pitched a complete game and allowed only two runs to the San Diego Padres. Detroit trailed 2–1 until Larry Herndon hit a two-run homer in the 5th inning. The Tigers won 3–2. Padres infielder Kurt Bevacqua hit a three-run home run off Dan Petry, and San Diego won game two 5–2.
Detroit took an early lead in game three, scoring four runs in the second inning.

Two of those runs came off a Marty Castillo home run. San Diego pitchers walked eleven Tigers batters in the first five innings, and the Tigers cruised to a 5–2 victory. Pitcher Milt Wilcox got the win for Detroit.

In game four, Jack Morris pitched another two-run complete game. Alan Trammell accounted for all four Tigers’ runs on offense, blasting a pair of two-run home runs.

Detroit took another early lead in game five, scoring three runs in the first inning. But the Padres tied it up in the 4th inning. The Tigers took the lead back and lead 5–4 in the 8th inning. Padres Manager Dick Williams wanted to walk Kirt Gibson intentionally, but relief pitcher Goose Gossage insisted he could get Gibson out.

Williams decided to trust Gossage, which was a big mistake. Gibson hit a three-run blast to give Detroit an 8–4 victory and their first World Series trophy since 1968. Alan Trammell won the Series MVP award as he batted .450, with a double, two home runs, and six RBIs.

It would be 21 years before the Tigers won another pennant, but they would lose the World Series to the Cardinals. In 2006, they won another pennant but were swept in the World Series by the Giants. For now, Tigers fans must be content with memories of that magical 1984 season.

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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network
Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier

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