In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan. So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history. There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully. Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important. Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.
While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is
not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically. Sometimes, a
non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements
or because the team was unique in some way. I wanted every decade to
be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades,
this was a challenge. However, the Tigers have managed to put
together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if
it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those
seasons will also be included.
The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.
If this was a series about the most dominant Tigers teams, the 1984 squad would finish on top. Their 35-5 start was the best in baseball history and they went on to win the division, the playoffs and the World Series virtually unchallenged. They also led the league in runs scored and fewest runs allowed in route to a franchise-best 104 wins.
So, why is this team not number one on the top twenty seasons list? The reason is because they were so good that it was a season without drama. After the fast start, fans just waited for the playoffs hoping there would not be an epic collapse. There would be no collapse. Instead, they led the AL east division from wire to wire and won by 15 games over the Blue Jays. The post-season turned out to be as easy as the regular season. In the end, this season is best remembered for the first forty games.
In 1983, the Tigers had gone 92-70 and finished in second place, six games behind the Orioles. During the off-season, they made two major moves which put the finishing touch on an already strong roster. First, they signed free agent first baseman Darrell Evans in December. Then they obtained reliever Willie Hernandez and first baseman Dave Bergman in a three-team deal with the Phillies and Giants near the end of spring training.
The Hernandez acquisition would prove to be the bigger of the two deals. He emerged into the league's best closer winning nine games and saving 32 and posting a 1.92 ERA in 141 innings. He earned a Cy Young and MVP Award for his efforts and was the last Tiger prior to Justin Verlander in 2011 to win either honor.
Hernandez had a lot of help. It was not a team of superstars, but it was an extremely deep roster with absolutely no weaknesses. They led the AL with a 3.49 ERA with a variety of weapons. Right handers Jack Morris (109 ERA+ in 240 innings) and Dan Petry (121 ERA+ in 233 innings) led a strong starting rotation. They also received solid contributions from Milt Wilcox,Juan Berenguer and Dave Rozema. Beyond Hernandez in the bullpen, they had husky right-hander Aurelio Lopez (10 wins , 14 saves and a 134 ERA+ in 138 innings).
Offensively, Detroit led the league with 829 runs and 187 homers; yet no player had as many as 100 RBI or 100 runs scored. It was a well-balanced team with four excellent two-way players up the middle - catcher Lance Parrish (33 homers), second baseman Lou Whitaker (112 OPS+), shortstop Alan Trammell (.314 BA and 135 OPS+) and center fielder Chester Lemon (134 OPS+). It didn't stop there though. Right fielder Kirk Gibson led the team with a 141 OPS+, no starter had an OPS+ under 98 and they had a seemingly endless bench.
The Tigers went on to sweep a mediocre Royals team in three games in the playoffs. In the World Series, they had little trouble with the Padres winning four games to one. The only loss came in game two when light-hitting Kurt Bevacqua beat them with a three-run homer in the fifth inning. It was the only bad thing I can remember happening that year.
With the series tied at one, the Tigers went home and finished off the Padres with three wins in Tiger Stadium. They eliminated the Padres with an 8-4 victory in game five, a contest best known for Gibson's three-run homer versus Goose Gossage in the eighth.
Many consider the 1984 squad to be the best Tigers team ever. It was almost a perfect season, but it was too easy and too lacking in suspense to head the list of most memorable seasons.
Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org