1987 Detroit Tigers
1987 Detroit Tigers / Franchise: Detroit Tigers / BR Team Page
Managed by Sparky Anderson
History, Comments, Contributions
The 1987 Detroit Tigers were known as the cardiac kids after coming back to beat the Toronto Blue Jays on the final weekend of the season. The seven games they played against the Blue Jays over the last 11 days of the season were like the Tigers' playoffs in 1987, as by the time they faced the underdog Minnesota Twins they were spent from the effort of catching the Jays and lost the American League Championship Series in five games. The Tigers needed those late-season heroics because they had started off the season 11-19.
In the first of the two crucial series, the Blue Jays won three of four games from the Tigers at home on September 24-27, two of these in walk-off fashion, building a three and half game lead before losing the final game of the set, which kept the Tigers alive. In the first game, the Jays won, 4-3, even though Jack Morris pitched a complete game. In the second game, the Tigers led 2-0 going into the bottom of the 9th, but Manny Lee hit a two-run triple off Willie Hernandez and after the Tigers loaded the bases with a pair of intentional walks, the usually sure-handed second baseman, Lou Whitaker, made a wild throw at the plate on Lloyd Moseby's grounder to give Toronto a 3-2 win. On the Saturday, it was Juan Beniquez who hit a bases-loaded double on the bottom of the 9th to turn a 9-7 lead into a 10-9 loss. In both of those losses, the bullpen was to blame, and the Blue Jays could have clinched the pennant with one more win in the four games left between the two teams. However, Detroit won all four, starting with a 3-2 win in 13 innings on the Sunday, September 27th. That game was another nail-biter as Kirk Gibson homered off Tom Henke to tie the game in the top of the 9th, the Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the 11th on a solo homer by Darrell Evans, only to see Toronto come back against Doyle Alexander, who was still in the game because Sparky Anderson had lost confidence in his relievers. Gibson drove in Jim Walewander with a single in the 13th, then Anderson used three different pitchers to nail down the bottom of the frame, with Dickie Noles getting the save.
As a result, the season came down to a final three-game series in Detroit, and the Tigers won all three games by a single run. They were trailing by one game coming into the Friday game on October 2nd and won, 4-3, while turning five double plays. On Saturday, Alan Trammell singled in Walewander in the bottom of the 12th for a 3-2 win and a one-game lead in the standings. In the final game of the season Frank Tanana defeated Jimmy Key, 1-0, on a solo homer by Larry Herndon to clinch the title. The Tigers were helped by the fact Toronto was playing short-handed, as SS Tony Fernandez and C Ernie Whitt were both injured and unavailable.
Bill Madlock was a spark plug for Detroit that year coming over from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rookie C Matt Nokes had a big year also, to replace Lance Parrish, who had defected to the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent.
One more point that should be added concerning this team was the addition of Doyle Alexander. The Tigers acquired him for a minor league pitcher named John Smoltz before the trading deadline. And man did it end up being a pretty strong trade - for the short term that is. Alexander was simply outstanding. He finished the season in a Tigers' uniform with a 9-0 mark and a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts. He finished three of those games. His dominance down the stretch was such that it earned him some Cy Young Award votes. This trade is still discussed among Tiger fans, because knowing what we now know about Smoltz's career, was this trade worth it? It is clear that without Alexander, the Tigers would not have won the AL East title, but on the other hand, Detroit gave up a great pitcher that could have been a key member of the starting rotation for years. But while he was considered a good prospect, no one saw Smoltz as a future Hall of Famer, and the trade accomplished exactly what was sought: a division title. A few breaks in the ALCS would have meant a trip to the World Series, where the potential opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, were a flawed team that was at the Tigers' mercy.
Most publications had the Tigers finishing about fourth entering the season and after that 11-19 start, no one really had thoughts of an AL East championship dancing through their heads.
Alan Trammell had never been a cleanup hitter in his Tigers career, but with the loss of Lance Parrish, Sparky Anderson inserted him in that position in the batting order. It ended up being a brilliant move. Trammell put up numbers that - at the time - were pretty eye-popping for a shortstop (.343, 28, 105). He clearly was the Tigers' season-long MVP. By season's end there was talk who would win the MVP title - Toronto's George Bell or Trammell? In the final weekend series, Trammell went 3-for-9 with four walks. That mix included a solo homer in a Friday one-run victory and the game-winning RBI single in a 12-inning contest. Bell went 1-for-11 and did not contribute a run scored or an RBI. Bell still won the MVP. That decision remains much controversial to this day, as Bell was a terrific slugger, but had no defensive value, while Trammell was his equal as a hitter (without the eye-popping number of home runs) and an excellent defensive shortstop to boot. The consensus with hindsight is that voters got it wrong, like they did in the National league vote.
Since the growing importance of bullpens, there has not been another team as successful as this Tigers team with such a suspect bullpen. Willie Hernandez changed his name to Guillermo (actually that was his real name) and allowed a bunch of gopher balls (8 in 49 innings) en route to an eight-save season. Eric King took his turn in the pen and led the team with nine saves, but his ERA was an uninspiring 4.89. By season's end a rookie named Mike Henneman had taken over the closer role. He finished the year with seven saves. Another pitcher who took his turn as a closer was lefty Mark Thurmond, posting five saves. It's hard to believe in today's specialized pitching era that a team could win 98 games with no stud in relief with double-digit save totals. Even at the time, the Tigers were an anomaly, and it proved costly in the postseason and almost cost the Tigers in their titanic showdown with Toronto. That is another point in support of the theory that this team was Sparky Anderson's best managerial job during his Tigers' tenure. He was a deserving winner of the AL Manager of the Year Award.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Jack Morris, Matt Nokes, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker
- AL Silver Slugger Award: matt Nokes (C), Alan Trammell (SS) and Lou Whitaker (2B)
- Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Matt Nokes (C)
- AL Manager of the Year Award: Sparky Anderson