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Legends On Deck

George Anderson’s 1984

Anderson

George Orwell’s novel 1984 was published in 1949, but George (Sparky) Anderson created magic in Detroit thirty years ago this past summer.

During spring training of 1984, on March 24th the Tigers traded catcher John Wockenfuss and outfielder Glenn Wilson to the Phillies for relief pitcher Guillermo (Willie) Hernandez and DH/first baseman Dave Bergman. This proved to be the deal that put the final pieces in place for Detroit’s run to a World Series championship. Hernandez pitched in 80 games, amassing a 9-3 record with 32 saves and was named American League Cy Young Award winner and league MVP.

After a 9-0 start ,the Tigers began the year 35-5, still the best all time record through 40 games in MLB history and ended the regular season 104-58. After defeating Kansas City in the American League playoffs, Detroit was set to begin the World Series in San Diego against the Padres, managed by Dick Williams. San Diego outlasted the Chicago Cubs to take the National League crown.

The Tigers and Padres split the first two games and headed to Detroit all even.

Due to the Red Sox close proximity to the Tigers spring training home at the time (Winter Haven, the Red Sox former spring home and the Tigers Lakeland home base were less than 30 minutes apart), I had gotten to know Tigers front office personnel and players quite well, so when I was given an opportunity to attend games three, four and five in Detroit I jumped at the chance.

The Tigers won game three on Friday night behind an excellent pitching performance by Milt Wilcox. I sat in the same row as former Tigers first baseman Norm Cash and enjoyed speaking with him about the Tigers last World Series victory in 1968.

There was tight security all around Tiger Stadium prior to Saturday’s game four, as then Vice President George H.W. Bush was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bush was in Detroit for a presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro the previous evening. I was in the box seats behind home plate talking to former baseball commissioner Happy Chandler when a woman stepped in the row beside me who I recognized as Barbara Bush.

I said hello to her and was immediately surrounded by secret service agents. Mrs. Bush said, “leave him alone, he’s OK….so is Happy.”

Alan Trammell‘s two home runs led the Tigers to victory that day, and Detroit was poised for Sunday’s possible clincher. Kirk Gibson‘s home run off Padres reliever Goose Gossage did the deed, and the Tigers, who led wire to wire won their first championship in sixteen years.

Bedlam ensued. I was sitting in an auxiliary seating area in left field and when Larry Herndon caught Bobby Brown‘s fly ball right in front of me, many of the fans rushed the field, tearing up sod and tossing it in the air. I caught some sod and ended up taking it home on the plane with me.

My instinct was to try to get out and as far away from the stadium as soon as possible. After being hugged by a dozen random Tiger fans I made it outside where basically the entire city of Detroit was gathered at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. There was a vacant police car with both doors open and I remember saying to myself “this is not good”….seconds later it was turned over and set on fire. Luckily we were staying far away, out near the airport in Romulus, so I was able to head back there quickly and see the rest of the carnage on the local news.1984

It was an incredible season and the World Series was easily one of the greatest moments in my life. Little did I know I would be at another one two years later when the Red Sox played the Mets in 1986, but nothing could top that amazing Tigers run. Years later when I would meet up with Sparky Anderson, I’d usually mention something about 1984 (after discussing Sparky’s picks for the NCAA Final Four….he and I talked college basketball for hours on end) Sparky would always say “Wasn’t it something ?, I still can’t believe it” and this was a manager who had much success in Cincinnati but still said 1984 was his greatest season ever.

(Photo Credit: AP),

Brian Mullen

Brian is a Boston native and art school student who took a summer job with a baseball team and never left. He has been employed by the Boston Red Sox in one capacity or another since 1982. He also follows and blogs college basketball. Follow him on Twitter @BostonBrian2015