Friday, January 29, 2021

Detroit Tigers All Stars: 1980-1989


The quartet of Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Chet Lemon was the heart of the 1980s Tigers.

(Photo credit: Mary Schroeder, Detroit Free Press

This week, I present the Detroit Tigers All Star team for the 1980-1989 decade.  All Star teams for previous decades are found below:









Detroit Stars: 1919-1930

In each decade, I select nine position players, one for each position on the field plus one other hitter.  This ninth player could be a designated hitter, a multiple position player who didn't fit neatly into one position and/or the best hitter who didn't get selected as a position player.  I refer to this final hitter as the utility player.  Then I select five pitchers: four starters and one reliever.  In earlier decades when relievers were not frequently used, it will just be the fifth best starting pitcher.  

Some further general rules are as follows:

  • A player must have played at least half of his games with the Tigers at a given position or played that position more than any other position.  In rare cases, I might cheat a little bit if none of the players qualifying at a given position are any good at all and there is a superior player who played a good number of games at that position. 
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons with the Tigers, preferably at the assigned position. 
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered. 
  • If a player played other positions with the Tigers besides his assigned position, his hitting performance in those games does count. 

Many statistics and sometimes, especially for fielding evaluation, anecdotal information will be considered.  For hitters, some of the statistics I consider are:

  • Games Played (G)
  • Plate Appearances (PA) 
  • Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference WAR), 
  • Adjusted Batting Runs (ABR
  • Adjusted On Base Plus Slugging (OPS+)
The follow are among those I use for evaluating pitchers:

After two turbulent decades which changed Major League Baseball forever, the 1980s was a period of relative calm.  The New York Yankees' six-decade dynasty came to a halt and an era of more parity ensued.  The Tigers were arguably the best team in the American League over the course of the decade with winning records each year from 1980-1988, their fourth world championship in 1984 and an additional division title in 1987.  

Led by the great up the middle quartet of catcher Lance Parrish, second baseman Lou Whitaker, shortstop Alan Trammell and center fielder Chet Lemon, the Tigers consistently had strong offense and defense.  They also had solid pitching including starters Jack Morris and Dan Petry and relievers Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez.  It all culminated with the glorious 1984 season where they started 35-5, went wire to wire and dominated post-season in route to the championship.  

After two somewhat disappointing, although winning, seasons in 1985 and 1986, the Tigers came back to win 98 games in 1987 capping the season with an East Division title after the most thrilling pennant race in franchise history.  Losing to the objectively inferior Minnesota Twins in the playoffs was a let down, but that's part of the crapshoot nature of baseball's post-season.  One could argue that the Tigers should have won more titles in the eighties, but it was still a fun decade for Tigers fans.      

The team WAR leaders were

Alan Trammell 53

Lou Whitaker 44

Jack Morris 30

Chet Lemon 28

Lance Parrish 25

The decade All Star team is listed in Tables 1 and 2 below and player profiles follow.

Table 1: Tigers All Star Position Players: 1980-1989











Lance Parrish









Darrell Evans









Lou Whitaker









Alan Trammell









Tom Brookens









Larry Herndon









Chet Lemon









Kirk Gibson









Dave Bergman









Table 2: Tigers All Star Pitchers: 1980-1989











Jack Morris









Dan Petry









Fran Tanana









Milt Wilcox









Willie Hernandez








C Lance Parrish

Lance Parrish was a durable slugger as well as a body building fanatic.  Manager Sparky Anderson initially frowned upon Parrish's weight lifting, but changed his mind when the big guy averaged 30 home runs and a 117 OPS+ from 1982-1985  His best season was 1982 when he hit 32 home runs and posted a 135 OPS+ with 5.0 WAR.  

The Big Wheel had a heavy workload for a catcher averaging close to 130 games per year behind the plate from 1979-1985 with additional games as the designated hitter.  He was not very quick or mobile and allowed a good number of passed balls, but he had a gun for an arm and was top notch at blocking the plate.  He finished in the top three in the American League in caught stealing percentage each year from 1982-1984 including a league leading 48.6% in 1983   

1B Darrell Evans

Everyone was surprised when tightwad General Manager Bill Campbell signed free agent Darrell Evans after the 1983 season.  It was the first time the Tigers had dipped into the free agent pool in a significant way and it paid off, although not right away.  He hit only 16 home runs with a 105 OPS+ during the 1984 championship season and it looked like he might be all done at age 37.  

As it turned out, the left-handed slugger had quite a bit left in the tank as he went on to average 34 round trippers a year from 1985-1987.  In 1985, he led the American League with 40 home runs at age 38, making him the oldest player to lead the American League in home runs and the oldest to hit 40.  Since then, Barry Bonds and Nelson Cruz have both eclipsed 40. In 1987, Evans hit 34 home runs which, at the time, was the highest home run total of any player in his age 40 season. David Ortiz hit 38 for the Red Sox in 2016.  

2B Lou Whitaker

In the 2019 Bill James Handbook, James estimated that Whitaker was the second best player not in the Hall of Fame (and not currently on the ballot).  One has to go back to the 19th Century to find the best one - shortstop Bill Dahlen.  The sentiment that Whitaker is one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs is not new.  In fact, it is almost universally shared by the sabermetric community.  


A common argument for Hall of Fame worthiness is that player X is in the Hall of Fame and player Y was better than player X, so player Y should be there too.  For example Harold Baines was voted in 2019, so Whitaker should make it.  The problem with that is that Baines was a mistake and if you use him as the bar, then you could make a case for hundreds of players. Baines was a good hitter for a long-time and by all accounts a respected teammate, but there is no reasonable argument you can make for his inclusion in he Hall of Fame.  So, it's not a good argument to say that your guy is better than Baines.  Occasionally the various Hall of Fame committees make poor judgments and we just have to accept their errors and move on. 

Suppose, however, we can show that Whitaker was better than not just Baines or not just one or two second basemen, but was as good or better than half the second basemen in the Hall of Fame.  That would give us a much stronger case.  There are currently 20 second sackers enshrined in the Cooperstown museum.  If we include Whitaker that makes 21.

Whitaker ranks 7th among 21 Hall of Fame second basemen (20 + Lou) with 75 WAR behind only Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, and Charlie Gehringer  Nobody would argue that Lou was better than the great Jackie Robinson who played his career under extraordinary circumstances and didn't play in the White majors until the age of 28.  Robinson is on a very short list of the most influential Hall of Famers ever.  But if we make Whitaker number eight instead of seven, that is still a strong statement of his Hall of Fame worthiness. 

The knock on Whitaker has been that he was very good for a long time, but never had a great season.  The career versus peak question has always been an important consideration, so Hall of Fame historian Jay Jaffe calculated the total WAR for a player's seven best seasons in terms of WAR as a measure of peak performance (WAR7 in the table).  Whitaker had 38 WAR7 which ranks 13th.  Thirteenth is not as good as 7th or 8th, but it was still better than eight Hall of Fame second basemen which is a lot.

To get a balance between career and peak, Jaffe then took the average of WAR and WAR7 to get JAWS.  Whitaker had 57 JAWS which puts him in 11th place which is the median (equal numbers of players above and below him) for the position.  Based on this, Whitaker looks like your average Hall of Fame second baseman. 

If we just consider offense, Sweet Lou's 117 OPS+ was 10th best.  Whitaker also ranked more or less in the middle of the pack on several more traditional statistics:

244 Homeruns (6th)
2,369 Hits (13th)
1,386 Runs (11th)
1,084 Runs Batted In (11th)
3,651 Total Bases (11th)

In the 1980's, the Tigers second sacker was consistently very good rounding to four WAR each year from 1981-1989.  His best year was 1983 when he batted .320/.380/.457 with a 133 OPS+ and 6.7 WAR.  Defensively, he had a strong accurate arm and nobody was better at turning the double play.  Using the Total Zone statistic, one would estimate that he saved seven runs per year from 1980-1986.   

SS Alan Trammell

Hall of Fame entry was a long time in coming for Trammell, but one can make a similar argument for his worthiness as the above for his keystone partner Whitaker.  The argument is that he is better than half the shortstops in the Hall of Fame.  He is 10th among 22 inducted shortstops in WAR, 8th in WAR7 and 9th in JAWS and 12th in OPS+.

Trammell had his best year in 1987 batting .343/.402/.551 in leading the Tigers to a division title.  This included a sizzling September and October where he hit .417 with 7 home runs and a 1.167 OPS in 33 games.  Unfortunately, he was robbed of the MVP award when voters selected Blue Jays left fielder as the MVP.  

Trammell was comparable to Bell offensively with a 155 OPS+ versus 146 to Bell and played a much more demanding position.  Thus, they were not even close based on WAR: 8.2 for Trammell versus 5.0 for Bell.  Not only that, but Bell did nothing the final week going 3 for 32 as the Blue Jays lost seven in a row and had a 3 1/2 game lead wiped out by the Tigers.  Apparently, several writers mailed in their ballots in favor or Bell prior to the home stretch.  

The Tigers always seemed to win when the oft-injured Trammell was at his best.  In 1984, Tram batted .314/.382/.468 and continued to shine in the post-season.  He batted .419 with three homers and nine Runs Batted In in the post-season and earned the World Series MVP.     

3B Tom Brookens

Third base has been been a weak spot in the history of the Tigers and Tom Brookens continued the tradition of light hitting third basemen in Detroit.  Brookens didn't hit much, but was a solid if unspectacular defender at third base and a favorite of manager Sparky Anderson.  He also had one of the best mustaches in the game. His best year offensively was 1980 when he batted .275 with 10 home runs and a 98 OPS+.   

Dubbed the "Pennsylvania Poker" by broadcaster Ernie Harwell, Brookens kept himself in the line-up with defense.  According to the Total Zone statistic, the Clarion, Pennsylvania native saved the Tigers an average of eight runs per game over an average third baseman from 1980-1985.  After 1985, he lost his range and probably kept a regular job longer that he should have.  

LF Larry Herndon

Larry Darnell Herndon came to the Tigers from the Giants in the winter of 1981 in exchange for pitchers Mike Chris and Dan Schatzeder.  Herndon was an immediate success in Detroit getting off to a hot start in 1982 batting .338/.388/.590 after the first week of June.  He cooled off during the summer, but batted a robust .292 with a quadruple double (21 doubles, 13 triples, 23 home runs and 12 stolen bases) for the season.  He followed up in 1983 batting .302 with 20 home runs and a 129 OPS+.  He declined from that point, but the trade was still a win for the Tigers.

While Herndon peaked in 1982 and 1983, his most memorable moments came later:

  • He caught the last out of the 1984 World Series chasing down a fly ball hit by Tony Gwynn in the deciding game five.
  • He hit a solo home run off Toronto starter Jimmy Key in the second inning of the final game of 1987.  It was the only run of the game as Tigers lefty Frank Tanana recorded a shutout to win the division title.  

CF Chet Lemon

Chet Lemon was acquired from the White Sox for left fielder Steve Kemp in 1981 and became one of the important pieces of the successful Tigers teams of the 1980's while Kemp's career was marred by injuries.  Lemon was known to do some odd things on the bases like frequently diving head first into first base, but he more than made up for questionable base running with above average offense and excellent defense.  In nine seasons with the Tigers, Lemon reached 2+ WAR eight times and 3+ WAR five times.  

Lemon peaked in 1983 and 1984 contributing 6.2 WAR each season.   In 1983, the right-handed batter had a .350 on-base percentage with 24 home runs and a 123 OPS+.  In 1984, he reached base at a .357 clip and slugged 20 home runs.  

Where Lemon excelled the most was in centerfield.  The speedy outfielder had excellent range finishing in the top five among center fielders in Total Zone each year from 1983-1986.  saving an average of 16 runs per year over an average center fielder.   

RF Kirk Gibson

Manager Sparky Anderson said in his book Bless You Boys "When he walks through that clubhouse door, everyone knows he's there.  There's just that something about a player like Gibson.  He's a man.  He comes to play day after day."  Gibson was a tremendous athlete who was an All American wide receiver at Michigan State prior to signing with the Tigers and often played the game like a football player.  Gibby certainly had a flair for the dramatic whether it be bowling over an umpire, a catcher and almost another base runner all on the same play or hitting his second most famous home run off Goose Goosage in the final game of the 1984 World Series. 

Heralded as the "next Mickey Mantle" by Anderson, Gibson was frustrated by frequent injuries during his career often because of his aggressive play.  When healthy though, he was one the most exciting players in the game with his dynamic power/speed combination.  In 1984, he batted .282 with 27 four sackers, 30 stolen bases and a 142 OPS+.  He also won a playoff MVP and batted .367 with three homers, four steals and nine Runs Batted In for the post-season.

Gibson flirted with the 30 homer/30 steal combo each year from 1984-1987 averaging 27/30, but never reaching 30 homers largely due to injuries.  In 1986, he went 28/34 in just 119 games after missing 33 games with a severe ankle sprain.  

DH Dave Bergman

There were a number of players who could have filled the utility spot on this team including Dave Bergman, Johnny Grubb, Steve Kemp, Matt Nokes and John Wockenfuss.  None of them stood out either because they didn't play enough years or they were not full time players.  I ultimately chose Bergman because he played the most years, had the most at bats and played on both of their title teams.  

Bergman was a role player who never had a full season as a regular.  He was primarily a first baseman, but played some outfield and did a lot of pinch hitting and designated hitting.  Most noteworthy are his contributions to their two playoff teams.  In 1984, the left-handed batting utility man batted .273/.351/.417 with a 113 OPS+ in 120 games.  In 1987, he batted .273/.379/.453 with a 124 OPS+ in 91 games.

Bergman is most remembered for one legendary (at least in Detroit) at bat on June 4, 1984.  With the Tigers and Blue Jays tied at three with two outs in the bottom of tenth inning, Bergman waged a 13-pitch battle versus Toronto reliever Roy Lee Jackson.  It ended with a three-run walk-off home run to left field in Tiger Stadium.   

SP Jack Morris

Before Morris was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, there was was much debate about his worthiness.  Many, including myself, argued that the durable right hander did not have the career run prevention statistics necessary for a Hall of Fame pitcher.  One thing in his favor is that he was a workhorse who completed a high number of games for his era.  He finished in the top five in complete games eight times and could be considered the last of the prolific complete game hurlers.  Morris had 165 complete games after 1980.  The great Roger Clemens was second with 118.  

Morris was never the best pitcher in the league, but was a very good and durable starter never missing a turn between 1980-1988 pounding out 35 starts and 260 innings per year with a 114 ERA+.  He had some of his best moments during the 1984 championship season including a no hitter versus the White Sox on April 7.  He also won three games with a 1.80 ERA in the 1984 post-season including two complete game victories in the World Series.   

According to manager Sparky Anderson, “He never wanted to come out (of a game).  So any time you went near the mound, you’d have problems...“He was the last of a breed: Somebody who actually comes to the park with anger to beat you.” (

SP Dan Petry

Overshadowed by teammate Jack Morris, Petry was still a key component to the success of the 1980s Tigers.  Peaches was never considered a star, but had a 115 ERA+ between 1980-1985. Like Morris, he never missed a start from 1982-1985 finishing in the top ten in wins in 1983 and 1984 and the top ten in ERA in 1982 and 1985.  Petry then suffered an elbow injury in 1986, from which he never fully recovered.  

SP Frank Tanana

Tanana had three careers - the young dominant fastball pitcher from 1973-1977, the still young but softer tosser between 1978-1985 and the crafty old lefty between 1986-1993.  The Tigers got the third Tanana and were quite happy with it.  His best season in Detroit was 1987 when he was an integral part of their thrilling pennant drive.  He posted a 109 ERA+ over 218 innings and was strong down the stretch including a 1-0 shutout in the division clinching game on the final day of the season. After that season he remained a solid presence on an increasingly feeble pitching staff.  

"My best pitch has always been control. I lost some velocity, but at the same time, thank God, I didn't lose my control. That's 90% of pitching, keeping the hitter off balance." (Baseball Digest, October, 1982, via Baseball Almanac)

SP Milt Wilcox

Wilcox was neither dominant nor a workhorse during his nine years with the Tigers, but he was consistently good.  He averaged 180 innings and a 104 ERA+ with little variation in performance between 1977-1984.  Wanting to stay in the rotation during the Tigers 1984 championship season, he endured an arm injury and multiple cortisone shots.  He never missed a start and was excellent during the post-season with 19 innings pitched, a 1.42 ERA and two wins.

Wilcox is perhaps best remembered for one game on April 15, 1983 versus the White Sox.  He was within one batter of a perfect game when Jerry Hairston broke it up with a single.  Wilcox had to settle for a one-hit shutout.       

RP Willie Hernandez

Guillermo Hernandez was acquired from the Phillies along with first baseman Dave Bergman for outfielder Glenn Wilson and utility man John Wockenfuss during spring training in 1984.  And what an acquisition he was.  The slender southpaw appeared in nearly half (80) of the Tigers games that season posting a 204 ERA+ and 41 OPS+ (under 100 is good) in 140 innings.  He also saved 32 games in a row - a big deal at that time - before blowing his first save in the last weekend of the regular season.

Hernandez incredibly won both the Cy Young and MVP Awards for his efforts in 1984.  Did he deserve to win both awards as a reliever?  Maybe not, but Table 2 below shows that Hernandez's  8.6 WPA that year was the best single season WPA for a reliever in MLB history.  Hiller's 1973 season (8.4 WPA) was second best.    

Table 2: All-Time Single-Season WPA Leaders Among Relievers

Willie Hernandez
John Hiller
Doug Corbett
Stu Miller
Dan Quisenberry
Rich Gossage
Troy Percival
Eric Gagne
Aurelio Lopez
Tug McGraw



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