Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The 1984 Detroit Tigers

Technically, George "Sparky" Anderson had lied. After Sparky achieved fame with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati in the mid 70's, which basically featured a future Hall of Fame lineup, Sparky was unceremoniously fired in late 1978 by the Reds as the team had begun to go downhill.

In the meantime, a guy named Les Moss, who had proven himself in the minor leagues, had been hired as the new manager of the Detroit Tigers for the 1979 season. But the Tigers hadn't expected Sparky to be fired by the Reds. When that happened, through no fault of his own, basically Les Moss got the shaft. HE was fired early in the 1979 season to make room for Anderson. Inheriting the likes of Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammel, and Lou Whitaker -- all young players at the time, once again, Sparky had fallen into a rose garden of talent. Anderson was quick to proclaim that if he couldn't win a pennant within 5 years with that team -- he'd quit. Fast forward 5 years to June, 1984. Though the Tigers would not only win the pennant that year, but the World Series as well -- Sparky's self-imposed 5 year clock had run out, but nobody seemed to remember his promise of 1979, because the Tigers were doing so well. Nevertheless, technically, he lied.

And what a season 1984 was. The Tigers had begun the season 35-5 for an .875 winning percentage which was, and remains, the best start for a team in major league history. Barring the Harlem Globetrotters, nobody can maintain a .875 winning percentage forever. Nor did those Tigers. After those first 40 games, they went 69-53 for the remainder of the regular season, which equates to a still respectable .565 winning percentage, but nothing spectacular. Actually, for the last 122 games, the Toronto Blue Jays played them just about even-up, but after their incredible start, the Tigers won their division by a whopping 15 games.

Quick quiz. Name the modern era major league team that posted the most wins in a regular season. If you don't know, the answer -- below -- may surprise you. (I didn't know either. I looked it up).

The Tigers would finish that regular season with a 104-58 mark for a .642 winning percentage. Most would agree that finishing 46 games above .500 is outstanding. In fact, any team would be thrilled just to win 100, with a .617 winning percentage. But when you really stop to think about it -- just how good is that anyway? Basically, out of every 10 games played, they would have won 6 and lost 4. In that light it doesn't seem so dominant. If one game goes the other way -- they're back to a .500 club and nothing special. Then again, if over the long haul, a team's record is far better than everybody else's, it speaks for itself. It all depends on how one wishes to look at it.

It's also ironic that there are times when the best (percentage-wise) team in the league can be swept in a series by the last place team. It happens. Such is the nature of big league baseball.

Recording artist Meatloaf once had a hit song titled "Two out of three ain't bad". That doesn't sound so tough, but in major league baseball, that would equate to winning 108 games during the regular season, which would be considered stupendous.

Answer to quiz. Though in the previous three years the Seattle Mariners had lost such future superstars as Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez, and ranked merely 11th in player payroll, their 2001 team posted a record of 116-46, for a .716 winning percentage. They would go on to lose in the AL championship series to the NY Yankees. (On a related note, that was also the year Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki made his debut in the major leagues on the Mariners.)

Back to Sparky Anderson and Les Moss. Sparky would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He died in Thousand Oaks, California, at the age of 76, in 2010. That was media-worthy.

Les Moss would bounce around a few other clubs as a pitching coach but never got a chance to manage again. He quietly passed away in August of 2012, in Longwood, Florida, at the age of 87. Nobody seemed to notice.

With all due respect to Sparky and his legacy, somehow I still find what became of Les Moss profoundly sad. But for a quirk of fate beyond his control, he might well have gone down as one of the greatest managers in Tiger history as well with the same team Sparky inherited. Who knows how it would have turned out?

No comments:

Post a Comment