The Big 50: Detroit Tigers: The Men and Moments that Made the Detroit Tigers is an amazing, full-color look at the 50 men and moments that made the Tigers the Tigers. Award-winning beat writer Tom Gage recounts the living history of the Tigers, counting down from No. 50 to No. 1. Big 50: Tigers brilliantly brings to life the Tigers' remarkable story, from Ty Cobb and Kirk Gibson to the rollercoaster that was the "Bless You Boys" era to Justin Verlander's no-hitters and up to today.
About the Author
Tom Gage covered the Detroit Tigers beat for the Detroit News from 1979 to 2014. In 2015, Gage was elected the 2015 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The longtime chairman of the Detroit Chapter of the BBWAA, Gage also serves on the screening committee that formulates the annual Hall of Fame ballot. The 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammell was a six-time All-Star while playing for the Detroit Tigers from 1977-1996. He resides in Detroit, Michigan.
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The Big 50 Detroit Tigers
The Men and Moments That Made the Detroit Tigers
By Tom Gage
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2017 Tom Gage
All rights reserved.
Kirk Gibson's Game 5 Home Run
In the colorfully long history of the Detroit Tigers — with its great players and defining moments — there have never been words more memorable than: "He don't want to walk you."
That, of course, is what Sparky Anderson repeatedly shouted to Kirk Gibson as Gibson waited to see if Goose Gossage would pitch to him with first base open during the 1984 World Series.
The footage of the video seems grainy now because it no longer happened yesterday. But almost as if it did, there's Sparky — as he was that October day — watching from the Tigers' dugout while his San Diego counterpart, Dick Williams, saunters to the mound to speak with Gossage. It's Game 5 at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers are looking like the better team — as they would prove to be. But they've not yet put away the pesky Padres. Gibson is at the plate in the eighth inning; two runners are on. It is center-stage time. But he embraces it. With the Tigers up by two games and leading by a run, the city is poised to celebrate.
In the first inning, Gibson had hit his first home run of the series off left-hander Mark Thurmond. Through the first four games, it hadn't been an impactful World Series for him — just a few contributions here and there. He singled in a run in the first inning of Game 2, which the Tigers lost. In Game 3 he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, giving the Tigers a four-run lead in the third inning en route to a 5–2 victory.
But he had not done anything in the way of late thunder. Then again, no one had. Through the first four games, there'd been only two runs scored after the fifth inning — both by the Padres. Neither had come close to deciding an outcome. But the buildup would merely be an appetizer to the entrée of one showdown, one decision, and to the immortality of Sparky's words to Gibson: "He don't want to walk you."
The Tigers scored three runs in the first inning of Game 5, two of them on Gibson's home run. It took three singles, along with Lance Parrish's steal of second, to add a third run, which was enough to knock Thurmond out of the game after just one out. By the fourth inning, though, the Tigers' lead was gone. So was their starter, Dan Petry.
And when Alan Trammell flied out to center to leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, the Padres were clearly encouraged by the problems they were causing. "We thought they were going to roll over," Gibson said, "but they came back."
Then came a huge play, the most important of the series so far — a popup to shallow right. With the game tied, the bases loaded, and one out in the fifth, Rusty Kuntz was called upon to pinch-hit for Johnny Grubb. It was a lefty-righty percentage move, but it surprised the kindly Kuntz all the same.
"I was down at the end of the bench, cheering on the boys and thinking, There's no way I'm ever getting into this game," he said years later to The Kansas City Star. "Thank God, I didn't say it out loud, but I remember thinking to myself, when my name was called, why?"
A .286 hitter in 140 at-bats for the Tigers during the regular season, Kuntz had struck out as a pinch-hitter in Game 2 against the same pitcher he was about to face, lefty Craig Lefferts.
Making contact, though, was essential this time. Knowing he couldn't afford to strike out, Kuntz went up to the plate dead set on swinging at a first-pitch fastball. "And what did I get?" he said. "A change-up. I barely made contact."
But, such as it was, he did, lofting a sickly little pop-up to no man's land between second and right. "I always kid him about it being a deep fly ball," Gibson said. Kuntz still thinks of it as a "dying quail."
Coming in from right, Tony Gwynn lost sight of the ball. It was his play to make, but he didn't know where the ball was. Desperate to help, second baseman Alan Wiggins made a good play to catch it. Normally the runners wouldn't have advanced. "But we had this going for us," Kuntz said. "Gibby was on third, and he was going to run through anybody who got in his way."
Or as Gibson put it, "I could always run the catcher over if I had to."
In any case, as soon as the ball was hit, he thought about scoring. "I was taught not to predetermine the outcome of a play," Gibson said, "always be ready for an opportunity. That's what I did. But I was always one to push the issue. That was one of my strengths."
Tagging up, Gibson beat the throw home. He had scored on a sacrifice fly to second base, giving the Tigers a 4–3 lead. They increased it to two runs with Parrish's solo shot that greeted Gossage in the seventh. "It was a huge home run for the 'Big Wheel,'" Gibson said. "What a great teammate Lance was, but we were all close on that team. There was pressure to get it done because of the [35–5] start, and we wanted it bad."
If Parrish's home run meant that Gossage was going to be hittable that day, the last to realize it was Gossage himself — because in the most pivotal showdown of the series, his stubborn self-confidence became a pivotal factor. Hanging tough, the Padres were just a run down at 5–4 after Kurt Bevacqua's solo home run off Willie Hernandez in the eighth. As Vin Scully said on the telecast, "We have a game again."
But with faltering command of his fastball, Gossage walked Marty Castillo on a full-count pitch to start the bottom of the eighth. Lou Whitaker was up next. Off the field, it had already been a memorable day for Whitaker. His daughter, Sara, was born that morning. But it was about to be a good day for him on the field as well.
After swinging away on the first pitch, Whitaker bunted the ball to third, but when Graig Nettles' throw went to second base for the start of a possible double play, shortstop Garry Templeton was standing in front of the bag instead of on it. Templeton thought the throw would be going to first base, so Castillo was ruled safe at second, while Whitaker was retired at first on a sacrifice. "I can't believe what's happening," said broadcaster Joe Garagiola. "Gremlins have hit the field. Templeton can't believe he did that."
After Trammell bunted the runners to second and third, Scully speculated — logically so — that the Padres would walk Gibson intentionally with first base open. Thinking the same thing, catcher Terry Kennedy put up four fingers to indicate an intentional pass. But in a meeting at the mound, Williams decided not to walk Gibson. Rather, Gossage decided not to walk him. Miked in the dugout, Anderson can be heard saying, "If he changes his mind, I can't believe it."
It's what happened, though. "I have a distinct feeling," Scully said on the air, "that Goose Gossage talked Dick Williams out of an intentional walk."
And understandably so. Gossage had struck out Gibson the first six times he ever faced him. At the time of the showdown, Gibson was 1-for-10 with seven strikeouts against him. Goose also had easily retired Gibson on a pop-up in Game 4. He owned Gibson.
And both of them knew it. "I remember the first time I faced him," Gibson said of Gossage. "It was my first big league at-bat in 1979. The Yankees had just taken the lead, so Goose was coming in to pitch. As soon as he got to the mound, I noticed all the extra guys suddenly had to take a pee. They disappeared.
I walked down to the bat rack, grabbed my bat, and started clanking it around, so Sparky could see I wanted to hit. Then he said to me, 'what do you want, big boy?' I said, 'I want him [meaning Gossage].' With a runner on base later in the inning, Sparky said, 'Go get him, he's yours.' So in my first major league at-bat, I'm going up against the best [f---ing] closer in the game."
It did not last long. "He fires the first pitch, I swing and foul it back," Gibson said. "Goose didn't look in for signs back then. He just threw. He quickly threw the second pitch, and I fouled that one back, too. The third one was on the black, and just like that, I'm out. The ball hissed as it went by me. I'd never seen anything that hard. It was like a 15-second at-bat."
No wonder Gossage, a future Hall of Famer, felt confident he could get Gibson out again in the eighth inning of Game 5. But Gibson was mentally preparing himself for the showdown, feeling ready because of what he'd gone through in 1983. "I got into it with Sparky that year," Gibson recalled. "He told me at the beginning of that season, 'I'm either going to make you or ruin you. You'll either handle it or you will go crying home to your mama's lap. When the easy pitchers are out there, the cake-eaters, you'll be sitting next to me learning the game. But when the big boys are pitching, you'll be out there.'"
Gibson hit only .227 in 1983, but by the time 1984 rolled around, he not only knew the game, he was ready to face the so-called big boys. Gossage was one of the big boys.
"The key was 1983," Gibson said. "It forced me to my knees. But Sparky did it for the right reasons. Then the next thing I know, I'm in the World Series facing Goose with a chance to put it away. The thought that wanted to come into my mind at the time was that this guy owned me, but all of a sudden, I'm staring at the upper deck in right and thinking to myself, You love it when people challenge you. That's when you perform even better. So I looked into the dugout at Sparky and flashed five fingers at him twice."
"Taking him up, 10 bucks," was the message. It was Gibson's way of betting Sparky $10 he would take Gossage upstairs. Sparky grinned but kept shouting, "He don't want to walk you."
"I knew I wasn't going to be walked," Gibson said. "I just wanted to be prepared. I was getting my mind comfortable with the situation — instead of with Goose dominating me. The count went to 1-0, then I smoked it. I can still see it. I can still feel it."
So can some of his teammates. "It's a joy to watch even now," Trammell said, "and always will be."
During the ball's majestic flight, Sparky kept yelling, "Get outta here. No, don't walk him. Don't walk him."
The home run wasn't an immediate game-winner but might as well have been. "The joy of the moment was that we knew it was all but over," Gibson said. "They were done."
Years later he would sign two dozen baseballs and send them to Gossage. On them Gibson wrote, ".133 average, 2-for-15, 1 HR," signifying what he'd done against the Goose in his career. Good-naturedly, Gossage signed them and sent the balls back with this inscription: "I should have walked him."
But if he had, the most magical Tigers' moment never would have happened.CHAPTER 2
Is it unanimous? Of course it is. There's no denying that Ty Cobb was a great baseball player, the most dynamic ever to play for the Tigers. No other Tiger, for instance, ever won 12 batting titles, including nine in a row. No other Tiger hit .400 three times, the third coming in 1922 when he was 35. To finish it off, Cobb hit .524 (22-for-42) in his last 13 games.
An argument can be made — and likely won — that he was not the best of teammates, and that his talent, by itself, could not transform the Tigers into a championship club. The truth is that Cobb never played on a World Series-winning team. Three of his teams lost the series, and his postseason batting average for the three series in which he participated was an ordinary .262.
Cobb, however, was not an ordinary player nor an ordinary individual. Indeed, he was as far from being ordinary as anyone who ever played the game. Part of that can be attributed to a personality for which the list of applicable adjectives would require the rest of this chapter.
One, however, seems to say it all: complex. Finishing a close second: difficult. Not far behind: tormented. How about mean? Was Cobb a mean person? By many accounts he was. To be sure, he was capable of being mean.
It was absurdly mean in 1912, for instance, for him to pummel a disabled heckler at Hilltop Park in New York, an incident that led to a 10-day suspension for Cobb and a one-day players' strike by the Tigers. In a game that they lost 24–2 with inept substitutes, one of the Tigers' temporary outfielders got hit on the head with a fly ball.
But to say that meanness was Cobb's dominant trait would be to undermine the good he sought to do as a philanthropist after his playing days, which included a donation to build a hospital in his hometown of Royston, Georgia, in 1950.
Was he a racist? Again, there have been numerous such accusations, but in his book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, Charles Leehrsen wrote that several of the black men Cobb with whom he allegedly fought "were actually white." Leerhsen also discovered that Cobb was descended "from a long line of abolitionists" and that his grandfather refused to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War "because of the slavery issue." So if Cobb was racially motivated at times, it was not because his family had been incorrigibly bigoted. Whether it was against white men or black, opposing players or teammates, Cobb was a fierce combatant. He didn't always win his fights — nor did he always start them — but he often found trouble.
And trouble often found him.
To understand Cobb as a high-performance player, he must also be understood as a high-strung individual. There is always this caveat about Cobb, however: trying to understand him rarely translates into doing so. He was that complex. And because he was, there often were ramifications involving his team.
It's true, for instance, that in the spring of 1907 — the year in which Cobb began to mature into the electrifying performer who became the first player elected to baseball's Hall of Fame — he fought with both a groundskeeper and the keeper's wife in Meridian, Mississippi, during the closing days of spring training. Cobb reportedly took exception to the groundskeeper's impertinent familiarity that was influenced by the possibility the so-called culprit was inebriated. That incident led to a series of altercations with Charles "Boss" Schmidt, the Tigers' burly catcher who knocked Cobb unconscious in one such skirmish.
There also was an incident that took place in Cleveland while the Tigers were trying to win their third consecutive American League pennant in September 1909. Unlike the raw 20-year-old who was pummeled by Schmidt before his first full season in the majors, Cobb was nearing his third consecutive batting title when he had a run-in with an elevator operator and a security guard at the Tigers' hotel. Because the guard was injured — and with Cobb allegedly threatening to kill him — a warrant was issued for the outfielder's arrest. The charge was "assault with the intent to kill."
The matter still hadn't been resolved by the time the World Series between the Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates was about to begin, making it necessary for Cobb to avoid traveling through Ohio when the team journeyed from Detroit to Pittsburgh. But in the hours after the incident in Cleveland, the immediate problem was how to get Cobb out of town before the police detained him. The escape, according to the Detroit Free Press, required "the cunning" of manager Hughie Jennings.
While the local constable concentrated on nabbing Cobb as he boarded the Tigers' scheduled transportation to the train station, Jennings "steered Cobb out through a rear entrance and down several side streets" to a waiting car. Cobb got on board "just as the train was pulling out." The matter was settled two months later when Cobb pleaded guilty to assault and battery. But he was required to pay only a fine and costs.
To say that all players despised Cobb is incorrect. He certainly had detractors, including his earliest Tigers teammates, who taunted, teased, and hazed him. Some say that such treatment merely sharpened his focus on becoming the best. Cobb was emotionally fragile, which didn't help his state of mind when word came from home in 1905 that his mother had accidentally killed his father, whose message of "Don't come home a failure" had become Cobb's earliest mantra. Young Ty, just 18 at the time and in his first year with the Tigers, had wanted to make his father proud.
One great player who liked Cobb the instant he met him was Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner, who hadn't known him before the 1909 World Series, which the Pirates won in seven games.
The two got along so well, in fact, that Cobb invited Wagner down to Georgia for a hunting trip after the season. Wagner took him up on the offer, only to return home three days later, according to The New York Times. "Cobb is one of the most genial gentlemen I ever met," said Wagner, who also was part of the first Hall of Fame class, "but there are two things we will never agree on."
Excerpted from The Big 50 Detroit Tigers by Tom Gage. Copyright © 2017 Tom Gage. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Alan Trammell,
1. Kirk Gibson's Game 5 Home Run,
2. Ty Cobb,
3. Mickey Lolich's Heroics in the 1968 World Series,
4. Al Kaline,
5. Magglio's Homer to Win the 2006 ALCS,
6. Hank Greenberg,
7. The Mark Fidrych Phenomenon,
8. Charlie Gehringer,
9. Goose Goslin's World Series-Winning Single,
10. Alan Trammell,
11. Denny McLain Wins 31,
12. Lou Whitaker,
13. Tiger Stadium Closes,
14. Miguel Cabrera,
15. Ozzie Virgil Breaks Color Barrier,
16. Harry Heilmann,
17. Horton's Throw Home,
18. Sparky Anderson,
19. Pudge Ushers in a Winning Era,
20. Hal Newhouser,
21. The 35-5 Start,
22. Willie Horton,
23. Player/Manager Mickey Cochrane,
24. Sam Crawford,
25. Northrup's World Series Triple,
26. Justin Verlander,
27. Tanana's Gem to Win Division,
28. Jack Morris,
29. Bobo Newsom's Emotional World Series,
30. Ernie Harwell,
31. 101 Wins in 1961,
32. Jim Leyland,
33. What a Debut!,
34. Hiller's Health,
35. The Kuenn/Colavito Trade,
36. Willie Hernandez,
37. Bergman's 13-Pitch Home Run,
38. Armando Galarraga and Other Near-Perfect Games,
39. The Alexander/Smoltz Trade,
40. George Kell,
41. Floyd Giebell,
42. Norm Cash,
43. Trucks' Two No-Hitters Despite 5-19 Record,
44. George Mullin,
45. Baseball Man Jim Campbell,
46. Cecil Fielder,
47. Les Mueller's 19-2/3 Inning Effort,
48. Ron LeFlore,
49. Coming Close in 1909,
50. Mayo's Gamble,
About the Author,