The Detroit Tigers enjoyed a remarkable run in the 1980s. The franchise did not experience a losing season until 1989 and had the game’s best record between 1980 and 1988. Detroit made two postseason appearances and won the 1984 World Series in that stretch. Age finally ended the Tigers run in 1989, but it was a fun ride full of amazing performances. The following are the best performances by position for the Tigers in the eighties
First Base: Darrell Evans (1985) The Tigers avoided signing major free agents for nearly a decade. Then, they decided to move on Darrell Evans. The infielder hit 30 home runs in 1983 for the Giants and had a swing made for Tiger Stadium. Evans struggled mightily after switching leagues. By early 1985, Tiger ownership criticized the player mercilessly. However, Evans finally caught up with AL pitching and led the majors in home runs in 1985. Although he only hit .248, the first baseman posted a .875 OPS. Evans had the second highest slugging percentage of his career at .519 to go along with 40 home runs, 94 RBI, and 81 runs scored. He also walked 85 times compared to his 85 punchouts. Evans remained in Detroit for five seasons, hit 141 home runs, provided veteran leadership, and helped the Tigers to two postseasons.
Second Base: Lou Whitaker (1983) If not for Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker would be the greatest second baseman in Tiger history. Whitaker was remarkably consistent for Detroit over his career. He won the 1978 Rookie of the Year Award, made five All Star teams, won four Silver Sluggers, and accumulated three Gold Glove Awards. In 1983, he enjoyed one of his finest campaigns. In fact, the Tigers recognized it as one of the great seasons in Tiger history for his position. Whitaker set career highs in average (.320), hits (206), doubles (40), and total bases (294). Additionally, Sweet Lou scored 94 times, hit 12 home runs, knocked in 72 runs, stole 17 bases, had a .380 OBP, and posted a .837 OPS. The season marked the only time Whitaker received MVP votes in his career. He finished 8th in the balloting in 1983.
Third Base: Darnell Coles (1986) Darnell Coles was a one year wonder for Detroit. He played in parts of three seasons for the Mariners before moving to Detroit. Coles had an extremely strong arm and good range in the field, but was erratic. The infielder experienced a career season in 1986. The 24-year-old set career highs with a .273 average, 20 home runs, and 86 RBI. Coles also set career bests in runs (67), hits (142), doubles (30), steals (6), walks (45), OBP (.333), slugging (.453), and OPS (.786). Unfortunately, Coles was not the same again after 1986. He bounced around for the next decade never recapturing the magic of 1986.
Shortstop: Alan Trammell (1987) Alan Trammell should have won the 1987 AL MVP award. The shortstop moved to the cleanup spot after Lance Parrish's departure and dominated. However. George Bell hit 47 home runs and played for a sexier team. That does not discount Trammell's performance in 1987. He established career highs in average (.343), home runs (28), RBI (105), runs (109), hits (205), OBP (.402), slugging (.551), total bases (329), and OPS (.953). Trammell added 34 doubles and 21 steals to hit totals. The Tigers won the AL East behind Trammell's performance. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays and Bell experienced an epic collapse.
Catcher: Lance Parrish (1983) Some would argue 1982 was Parrish's best season. However, the Detroit Tigers selected 1983 when they held a fan vote for best seasons in Tiger history. In 1983, Parrish set career bests in runs (80), hits (163), doubles (42), RBI (114), and total bases (292). He also hit .269 with 27 home runs and .796 OPS. On top of this, he won his first Gold Glove, third Silver Slugger, and experienced his highest finish in the MVP vote. In the field, he cut his errors in half from 1982 and led the league in caught stealing percentage at 49%.
DH: John Grubb (1986) John Grubb was a professional hitter. He played his final five seasons with Detroit starring off the bench and as designated hitter. The reserve had a key hit in the 1984 ALCS against San Diego. Two years later, Grubb had an amazing age 37 season. The left-handed hitter dominated AL pitching for a .333 average, .412 OBP, .590 slugging, and 1.002 OPS. He added 13 home runs and 51 RBI in a marvelous next-to-last ride. In 1987, Grubb dipped to .202 and his playing time evaporated. He retired after the season.
Centerfield: Chet Lemon (1984) Chet Lemon had his best overall season as a Tiger in 1984. He played his usual stellar defense and enjoyed one of his better offensive campaigns. Lemon hit .287 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 77 runs, 34 doubles, .495 slugging, and .852 OPS. His play solidified Detroit up the middle, led to an All Star berth, and helped the Tigers win the World Series. In fact, Lemon made a Willie Mays-esque catch in the 1984 Fall Classic.
Leftfield: Larry Herndon (1983) Larry Herndon performed at an All Star level in 1983. He had a career year for Detroit with a .302 average, 20 home runs, 92 RBI, 88 runs, 182 hits, 28 doubles, 9 triples, and .829 OPS. The outfielder appeared in 153 games in 1983 and then saw his playing time diminish as he entered a platoon his next few seasons.
Rightfield: Kirk Gibson (1985) Sparky Anderson billed Kirk Gibson as the next Mickey Mantle. That label was impossible to live up to. However, Gibson could dominate games for the Tigers. In 1985, he had his best overall season statistically. He appeared in 154 games, hit .287, 29 home runs, 97 RBI, 37 doubles, had 301 total bases, slugged .518, stole 30 bases, and posted a .882 OPS. He was amazingly strong. In one game, he hit a check swing that landed just foul in Tiger Stadium’s upper deck. Gibson also hit a ball that nearly cleared Yankee Stadium in 1985.
Bench: Dave Bergman (1984) Teams do not win without players like Dave Bergman. He appeared in 120 games in 1984, hit .273, 7 home runs, 44 RBI, .768 OPS, and fielded his position flawlessly. In June, he hit the key home run to bury the Toronto Blue Jays in the divisional race. Sparky Anderson called it the greatest at bat he ever witnessed. Bergman battled Toronto pitcher Roy Lee Jackson to a 3-2 count and fouled off several pitches before depositing the 13th pitch of the at bat into the seats for an 11th inning walk off winner.
RHP: Jack Morris (1986) Jack Morris won 198 games with the Detroit Tigers over 14 seasons. He averaged over 16 wins a year once he became a full time starting pitcher in 1979. In 1986, the Tiger ace won a career high 21 games. Overall, he went 21-8 with a 3.27 ERA, 267 innings, 15 complete games, 223 strikeouts, 1.165 WHIP, and led the league with 6 shutouts. Morris finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, but probably should have finished second only to Roger Clemens or third behind Clemens and California’s Mike Witt. Writers disliked Morris’ attitude, which lowered his vote totals for postseason awards throughout his career.
LHP: Frank Tanana (1987) Frank Tanana joined the Tigers in 1985. He won 96 games in 8 Detroit seasons with his best year as a Tiger coming in 1987. Tanana finished 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA, 3 complete games, 218.2 innings, 1.244 WHIP, and one important shutout. Tanana defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 1-0 in the final game of the season to clinch the AL East for the Tigers.
Setup: Aurelio Lopez (1984) Aurelio Lopez did everything for the Tigers. He started, pitched long relief, closed, and set up. In 1984, Lopez dominated out of the bullpen. He finished 10-1 with a 2.94 ERA, 137.2 relief innings, 14 saves, 94 strikeouts, and 1.169 WHIP. Senior Smoke added two wins in the postseason including the clinching Game 5 victory in the World Series.
Closer: Willie Hernandez (1984) Sparky Anderson watched Willie Hernandez in the 1983 postseason. Hernandez impressed the Tiger manager who went to G.M. Bill Lajoie. The Tigers traded for Hernandez who led the AL in appearances (80) and games finished (68) in 1984. Hernandez went 9-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 140.1 innings, 112 strikeouts, and 32 saves in 33 chances. He proved the difference for the Tigers, who won their first title since 1968. For his efforts, Hernandez won the MVP, Cy Young, and appeared in his first All Star game.