Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite blog writers, has a theory on his blog that most fans want baseball to remain the same as it was when they were 10 years old. It is the age when you really discover and start to understand the game. I think the key to this is that at about 10 years old, you start to look at the world a little differently. I have a 10 year old daughter and she is now aware of events that go on around the world and has an interest in what is going on outside of her immediate surroundings. She is concerned about what is happening in Japan and Libya right now. As a sports fan, she is more aware of the strategies that go into a game. Meanwhile, whenever I take my 7 year old to a game, he is more concerned about when the cotton candy vendor is going to come around. He has barely any idea what is going on in the game, but he can spot the cotton candy vendor all the way across the field and then proceeds to pester me for the next three innings wondering if he is going to run out of cotton candy before he gets to our section.
Anyway I ramble a bit, but I grew up in suburban Detroit and was born in late 1973. In 1984, I was 10 years old and 1984 represents baseball as the perfect way it is to be played. What a time to come of age as a fan of the Detroit Tigers. My dad took me to games at the old Tiger Stadium before this season, and much like my son now, I think I was more concerned with the concession stand. I had baseball cards from before this year, but I think I bought alot of them thinking I was getting real baseball gum. But in 1984, I started following every game on the radio (yeah every game wasn't on TV then) and learned more about the players and where they came from and their stats. Anyway, who knew that your hometown team doesn't win the World Series every year. In fact I am still waiting for them to come around again. I wonder if I had turned 10 in 1994 during the beginning of the Randy Smith era if I would've even cared about the Tigers. But the events in 1984 set me up as a Tiger fan for life.
How Good Was This Team?
This team was tied for the 2nd best record of the 1980s. Only the 1986 Mets were better with 108 wins and the 1988 Oakland A's also had 104 wins. Looking at all three rosters, it seems like both the Mets and A's had an all-star (or near all-star) at every position and a solid pitching staff from 1-5. Beyond the first 3 starters, the '84 Tigers really didn't have much. This may be surprising, but no player on this roster is in the Hall-of-Fame. Only the manager is in the Hall-of-Fame. There were issues all season trying to find a third baseman. But everything went right in 1984. They were an up and coming team for awhile. The core players mostly all came up together in the late 1970s and by 1984 were in the prime 26-32 age range, with Alan Trammell being the 2nd youngest of the starters, but probably the real team MVP. It seems that alot of these players may have had their best seasons career wise in 1983, but they were real close in 1984. Chet Lemon may have had his best season ever in 1984 and Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell probably had their 2nd best seasons. The bullpen with a one-two punch of Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez was lights out. The bench led by Barbaro Garbey, Ruppert Jones, and Marty Castillo was excellent.
Willie Hernandez - Cy Young & MVP
The final piece of this puzzle came in the last week of spring training. The Tigers traded long time player Johnny Wockenfuss and probably the only player of value to come through their farm system in the 1980s, Glenn Wilson, for Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman. This trade made the bullpen lights out as Willie Hernandez was probably the best pitcher on this team. He would win MVP and Cy Young. I think what won him both of these awards is that the Tigers were close in 1983, and it did appear that he was the final piece in the puzzle. Plus it was noted that he only had one blown save for the year. His statistic line looked like this 32 saves, 1.92 ERA, 112 strikeouts in 80 games. He led the league in games pitched and games finished. I think the 32 saves is deceiving as the Tigers weren't in that many close games for the season. But was he really good enough to win both awards? I ask this question because the stats don't seem that eye-popping and he had a very average career besides 1984 and maybe 1985.
Here are the players in order who received Cy Young votes:
Dan Quisenberry - led the league with 44 saves, and a had a sub 3.00 ERA
Bert Blyleven - pitching for a last place team went 19-7 with a sub 3.00 ERA
Mike Boddicker - led league in wins with 20 and ERA with a 2.79
Dan Petry - went 18-8, best starter on best team, best season of his career
Dave Stieb - actually finished 7th in the voting, led the league in WAR, but only had 16 wins...this was significant in 1984
I would say Hernandez probably was the best pitcher, he did what he had to do and had a sub 2.00 ERA. Actually I probably would've voted for Boddicker, but not a bad choice.
Now for MVP
Kent Hrbek - not sure why he would've finished 2nd, even going with traditional stats, he was 7th in batting average, 7th in RBI
Eddie Murray - awesome season, .306-29-110 and led league in OBP
Don Mattingly - led league in hits, batting average, doubles, and OPS+, although nobody knew what that was then, also had 110 RBIs
Kirk Gibson - the Tigers leader in runs scored, 2nd in HR and RBI
Tony Armas - led league in homers and RBI with 43-123, best season of his career
Alan Trammell - finished 9th, led Tigers in OBP
Cal Ripken - if you buy into Bill James win shares, he was the league leader beating out Hernandez by 13 win shares...finished 27th in MVP voting...I could rant about win shares but maybe I will save that for another post
What may have given Hernandez this award is that no one stood out. Armas led the heague in HR and RBI, but has an awful batting average and the perception that Fenway helped. I think Eddie Murray may have been the best overall player, but the Orioles fell from World Champions to 5th place in the division, so they were ignored in award voting.
18 players on this roster could be found in the Topps set in a Tigers uniform. Dave Gumpert was in the minor league system in 1984 but did appear on a Topps card. Another 7 could be found in the Topps Traded set, including the before mentioned MVP/Cy Young winner, Willie Hernandez. The only player on this roster with a card in a non-Topps set was Mike Laga. Laga had the least number of plate appearances for a position player on this team. He had been a member of the Tigers since 1982 and would go on to play for the Cardinals and Giants ending his career in 1990. This is his rookie card. He would only have one more card, in the 1987 Topps set showing him as a badly airbrushed member of the Cardinals.