Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Motown 9

After the 1973 season the Tiger franchise crashed and burned.  For the next 4 seasons the team finished hopelessly below .500 as management began systematically purging the great players from their late 60's / early 70's teams and integrating youngsters.  1978 saw the franchise return to respectability.  With an influx of a core of young players, which included a keystone combo (Alan Trammell & Lou Whitaker) that would stick together for close to 2 decades, the Tigers were on their way.  Steady hand Ralph Houk oversaw the transition from the dying embers of a contender through the rebuilding process.  Detroit finished the season in 4th place with a 86-76 record.  After a fast start the young guns of Motown led the AL east by 1 game 2/3 of the way through May.  With Boston heating up the young Detroit team settled into a consistent pace that saw them fall 16 1/2 games out by late July.  Boston cooled off and the rest of the AL East did not quit.  The Tigers stayed competitive and as late as September 13th they were only 9 games out of first.  By season end the Tigers finished 13 games back, but their fans returned to Michigan and Trumbull and their team of the future was starting to really take shape.

What worked:  The Tigers led the league in OBP and came in 2nd in batting average, which translated to 5th in runs scored.  Apparently the youngsters could get on base, but could not drive in the big run when needed.  Their #1 draft pick that season, Kirk Gibson, would take care of that problem once he arrived in Motown in a few seasons.  Pinch hitters John Wockenfuss and Phil Mankowski were both clutch and great part time fill in's.  Lone holdover from their '68 Championship team, Mickey Stanley, even managed to hit .265 and come through in the clutch.  Whitaker and Trammell were stars right from the beginning.  You don't usually see this much polish in a pair of 20 year olds.  35 year old John Hiller had a great year as the team's closer.  Houk got over 200 innings out of his 4 main starters.

What didn't work:  The pitching staff was about average when compared to the rest of the league.  Other than Hiller (9-4, 2.34, 15sv) the bullpen was like kerosene on a fire.  The starting rotation did not have a true ace, unless you count 23 year old Jack Morris (3-5, 4.33), who was just learning his way through the league.  Jim Slaton (17-12, 4.12) and Jack Billingham (15-8, 3.88) were stop gap solutions.  Neither guy had #1 guy stuff and both relied on the offense scoring bushels of runs to be competitive.  Injuries plagued 3rd year phenom Mark "the Bird" Fidrych for the 2nd straight season.  If healthy, "the bird" was counted upon to be the ace of this staff.  He only managed to appear in 3 games and won both of his decisions.  No telling how far they go if he pitches close to his 1976 form.

In total I added 18 new cards for the '78 Tigers.

"Tram" finished 4th in the ROY voting at the conclusion of the '78 season.  His keystone partner  Lou Whitaker, won the award hands down.  The 20 year old Trammell played a fantastic shortstop and hit .268.  If Barry Larkin is in the HOF, this guy should be right next to him.  In a 20 year career he would hit .285 as a 6 time All-Star and 4 time Gold Glove winner.  In 1987 he virtually carried the Tigers yet lost out to George Bell for the MVP even though his team won the division by beating Bell's Blue Jays 6 out of 8 times over the final week.  He spent his full career with the franchise and never let his ego get in his way as he took a diminished role over the final 3 years of his career as he stuck around to tutor the next generation of Tiger youngsters.  If Al Kaline was Mr. Tiger for the 1950's-60's generation, Trammell is Mr. Tiger for the 70's-80's group.  Pictured here is his mid season 1978 Burger King card, which was obviously taken during spring training.

For most people Bob Sykes is a little known footnote in the annals of one sided MLB trades (the Yankees traded Willie McGee straight up for him).  For some in Detroit and in St. Louis he conjures up memories of a lefty hurler with much promise, who became a victim of arm trouble.  What Sykes really is is a hometown hero, who entered law enforcement late in life (age 50), who helps youths in his adopted hometown of Evansville, IN.  You can read the full story by clicking here.  Sykes' program works with kids from the time they are in Pre-K, so that they get to know each other and there is a healthy respect from both sides.  During the '78 season he compiled a 6-6, 3.94 record while splitting time between the rotation and the pen.

Taylor pitching 1 inning in just 1 game for the 1978 Tigers following a decent start in 1977 (1-0, 3.38).  He spent 41 games in AAA Evansville and compiled a 4-7, 4.57 record working solely out of the pen.  1979 would be his final season in professional baseball splitting time between Evansville and the parent club.  His 1-2, 4.82 record in 10 games with Detroit prompted the team to give his his release.  For a guy with such a short / unsuccessful major league tenure I was able to find more than a few autographed photos of him on the web, including this one.

Spikes was one of those "can't miss" prospects that came out of the Yankee farm system during the early 70's, when most of them "did miss".  New York traded him to Cleveland for Graig Nettles, who actually was a "can't miss" and the rest in Cleveland lore is history.  Spikes had 2 solid seasons, but blew out his knee and had discipline issues with Frank Robinson, who took over as Cleveland manager in 1975.  In 1978 he played in 10 games in Detroit and hit .250.  He spent most of the season languishing in Triple A (Evansville), where he was accused of loafing.  Bobby Cox, his former minor league manager in the Yankee chain, resurrected his career by bringing him to Atlanta where he did a great job as a pinch hitter for two seasons.  He moved on to play 1 season in the Japanese league before hanging up his spikes (all puns intended).  I found this autographed photo on ebay, which shocked me since he only had a 10 game tenure in Motown.

Stegman  played for Evansville for most of 1978, batting .264 . This earned him a promotion to Detroit when rosters expanded in September. In his MLB debut, Stegman appeared in 8 games, batting 14 times with 4 hits. In the next-to-last game of the season, Stegman hit his first major league home run on September 30 against the Baltimore Orioles.  The 1979 season looked a lot like 1978 for Stegman, as he spent the entire season with the Triplets, getting called up in September. This time, Stegman got more of a chance, appearing in 12 games with 33 at bats. Although he hit just .194, he did hit three home runs among his six hits.  In 1980, Stegman made the Tigers out of spring training. Serving as a reserve outfielder, he batted just .181 through August 6 before being set back to Evansville. He returned in September, but went just 2-for-14 down the stretch. After the season, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for relief pitcher Dennis Kinney.

Tobik made his Major League debut on August 26, 1978, giving up three earned runs in a 9-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.  In 5 games with Detroit in 1978 he posted a 3.75 ERA, but did not have a decision   For 4 seasons he bounced back and forth between AAA Evansville and Detroit until he developed a forkball in 1982, which elevated him to closer status.  Manager Sparky Anderson was shocked that Tobik turned the corner, so to speak, and because he doubted it the franchise dealt him during the following spring training to Texas for Johnny Grubb.  Tobik had two average seasons in Texas and 1 sub par year in Seattle before leaving baseball.  Grubb went on to be a key left handed bat for the 1984 Detroit championship team.

Glynn spent 4 seasons (1975-78) shuttling between AAA Evansville and Detroit.  As a Tiger in 1978 he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 10 games.  He posted a 3.07 ERA and did not have a decision in 14 innings of work.  He was dealt to his hometown Mets during the following spring training.  His time with the Mets would last 2 seasons.  Next up would be 4 years spent shuttling between Cleveland and their AAA affiliate Charlestown.  Glynn kept on plugging away in the miors until he was 34, when he gave up baseball.  He returned briefly in 1990, at the age of 37 for a 1 game shot at Tidewater (AAA-NYM).  I found this photo doing a Google search.

Cactus Jack Billingham was the anchor of the Big Red Machine's pitching staff from 1972-1977.  After a sub par '77 season he was traded to the Tigers for two minor leaguers who never amounted to much.  In 1978 he was 15-8, 3.88 and in 1979 he was even better (10-7, 3.30).  Age caught up to him fast and by 1980 he bottomed out and retired.  His original 1978 card pictures him in a Reds uniform.  This is his 1978 mid season Burger King card.  The picture was taken during spring training after he came over to Detroit.

Arguably the best big game pitcher of his era, Morris was a 23 year old rookie who went 3-5, 4.33 for the Tigers during the '78 season.  It didn't take him too long to learn the league or his craft.  The following season (1979) he won 17 games and was well on his way to being the Tigers ace.  Morris is credited with being the winning-est pitcher during the 1980's.  The only knock on him was that he would pitch to the level of his competition, which inflated his ERA.  This might be one of the few reasons why he has been kept out of the HOF.  His 1978 card had him on one of those rookie panel cards with 3 other pitchers.  This card comes directly from the 1978 Burger King set issued mid season.

By 1978 "Catfish" Crawford was in his put up or shut up year.  After bouncing between AAA and the majors this 27 year old lefty was returning for his 3rd and final season in Detroit.  Crawford appeared in 20 games in 1978 and logged 39 innings with a 2-3, 4.35 record.  He was sent down to Triple A (Evansville), where hie was 1-3, 7.50, then given his release.  This photo was taken from his 77 card.

Slaton pitched just 1 season in Detroit (1978), which he sandwiched around his two extensive tours of duty in Milwaukee.  After 7 successful seasons in Milwaukee, where he was their staff workhorse he was traded to the Tigers for slugger Ben Oglivie.  Slaton won 17 games for the Tigers in '78, but he had a high ERA (4.12), so he was allowed to test the free agent markets.  Slaton went right back to Milwaukee and this time served as the staff's 5th starter / long reliever for 5 seasons.  He wound up back in Detroit in 1986 and retired after playing 22 games.  His 151-158 record doesn't do justice to a man who pitched his heart out for some really bad second division Brewer clubs.  His 1978 card pictures him as a Brewer.  This card comes directly from the 1978 Burger King set.

In less than two years, Young was inserted into the Tigers' rotation after the 1978 All Star break and immediately reeled off four consecutive complete game victories. He showed tremendous promise as the 1978 season came to an end, as he won six games, posted a 2.81 ERA and had seven complete games. It appeared that Young was an excellent candidate for the Tigers starting rotation in 1979. However, inclement weather in the first month of the year allowed only two appearances and Young struggled with his control. He was sent to Triple-A Evansville to get some work in and when he returned, Sparky Anderson was named new manager of the Tigers.  Young was unable to find a spot on the Tigers pitching staff and struggled as both starter and reliever. It would prove to be the final campaign of Young's brief, two year career. He would pitch at the minor league level for two more years before finally calling it a career. (This synopsis was furnished by 1980ToppsBaseball blog).  The photo comes from a Google search

Parrish became the cornerstone of the Tiger franchise during the late 70's and through the mid 80's.  He was the top ranked catcher in the AL both offensively and defensively.  Manager Sparky Anderson thought he was "too bulky", because he was one of the early proponents on lifting weights.  During his 10 year stay in Detroit he was a 6 time All-Star and 4 time Gold Glove winner.  In 1978 he hit just .219, but he did power 14 homers in less than 300 at bats.  After the 1986 season the Tigers deemed him expendable due to th emergence of Matt Nokes behind the plate.  He signed with Philadelphia and made 2 more All-Star teams.  During his 10 years in Detroit he hit 212 of his 324 homers.
Interesting Tidbit:  He was the last cut by the 1993 Dodgers, who elected to keep this prospect named Mike Piazza.

Whitaker, the 1978 AL ROY, was all that he was advertised to be.  Compare his lifetime numbers to Joe Morgan's and tell me why he is not in the HOF ?  I can't answer that question.  During the '78 season this 21 year old rookie hit .285 and was rock solid in the field.  For the next 17 seasons he never led up and actually hit .293 in his final season.  During his career he was a 5 time All-Star, 4 time Silver Slugger and 3 time Gold Glover.  How only 3% of the voters chose him for Cooperstown is mind boggling.  This card comes from his 1978 Burger King card.

Wagner spent 3 seasons backing up Whitaker and Trammell and hoping to get some sort of break.  He was 4 years older than both and a light years worth of skill behind them.  In '78 he got into 39 games and hit .239.  The following season he hit .274 in 75 games backing up the infield.  By 1980 his playing time and his average dipped into the .230's and he was moved along to Texas.  Wagner lasted as a utility man until 1984, where he finished up his career in 1984 for Oakland hitting .230.  During that season he actually got to pitch 1 2/3 scoreless innings vs his old Tiger teammates.  A couple of subpar seasons in Triple AA later signaled his exit from baseball.  At the age of 43 he made a 2 game comeback with Cincy's Double A affiliate Chattanooga, where he went 1 for 4.  This photo came from his '82 Donruss card.

Burnside debuted on September 4, 1978 with the Tigers against the New York Yankees. His debut was rough and he posted a 0.1 IP, 3 H, 0 SO, 2 BB, 4 ER line for the night. On October 25, 1979 he was traded by the Tigers to the Reds for Champ Summers. His last appearance was in 1980 for Cincinnati.  Burnside was one inning away from never even advancing out of A ball.  Click here to read an interesting article on what turned his minor league career around. I found this B&W photo, while doing a Google search and colorized it.

After spending part of the 1978 season in the minor leagues, Baker made his major league debut on May 25, 1978. In a contest against the Baltimore Orioles, he pitched 6⅓ innings, striking out six and allowing one earned run as the Tigers lost to the Orioles, 2–1.  Baker made 15 appearances for the Tigers, starting ten games, earning two wins, four losses, and an ERA of 4.55.  Baker also made 16 appearances for the Evansville Triplets, the AAA-level minor league affiliate of the Tigers. In those appearances, Baker made 16 starts, won eight, lost one, threw four complete games, three shutouts, and earned an ERA of 3.21.  Baker began the 1979 season as a part of the Tigers' rotation as a spot starter. He played 21 games, starting 12 of them. After posting a 1–7 record and a 6.64 ERA, he was sent back to Evansville.  After spending nine games with Evansville in 1980, he was purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays on June 6, 1980.  I colorized this B&W photo and superimposed it on a Tiger Stadium background.

After 3 seasons in Boston as a utility man Dillard was sent to Detroit in exchange for two minor league prospects. For his new team, he provided solid support for young infielders Lou Whitaker (2B) and Alan Trammell (SS).  He played in 56 games, but hit just .223. During the 1979 spring training he was moved by Detroit to the Chicago Cubs, spending three seasons with them. His most productive season came in his first year at Chicago, when he hit a career-high .283 batting average with five home runs and 31 runs in 89 games played. The following season he posted career-numbers in games (100), hits (55), doubles and RBI (27).  This is his 1978 Burger King mid season update card.

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