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Bill Norman, in his interim role as Tigers manager in 1958, performed to relatively good reviews. The team began playing very good baseball immediately after Norman took over, and though there were some rough patches, Norman earned the job for 1959 on a more permanent basis.

Norman had some weapons---most notably, of course, Al Kaline and Harvey Kuenn. Left fielder "Sunday" Charlie Maxwell (so named for his success on Sundays) was a certifiable power hitter. The new 3B was "The Walking Man," Eddie Yost, who came over from the Washington Senators in a December '58 trade. Yost walked about once every five plate appearances, and with the glove he was above average.

The pitching staff still had mainstays Jim Bunning, Paul Foytack and Frank Lary---and in 1959 added lefty Don Mossi from the Cleveland Indians.

Tigers fans were eager to see what skipper Norman could do, given a spring training with his ballclub.

After 17 games, they found out---and the results were as ugly as you could imagine, maybe more so.

Inexplicably, the Tigers limped out of the gate by losing 15 of their first 17 games. The lowlight was a four-game stretch in which they lost to the Indians by scores of 14-1, 10-1 and 10-4, then dropped their next game to the lowly Kansas City A's, 10-1. That aggregate 44-7 score doomed Norman.

Indeed, Tigers GM John McHale fired Norman after the 2-15 start and replaced him with grizzled baseball man Jimmie Dykes, 62 years old and a living baseball legend. Dykes managed his first game in 1934 for the Chicago White Sox and stayed there until 1946. Between then and landing with the Tigers, Dykes managed the Philadelphia A's, the Baltimore Orioles and did an interim stint with the 1958 Cincinnati Reds.

Yet despite all his experience, critics were concerned that Dykes had never really won as a manager. Only seven times in 20 years did Dykes' teams finish with a .500 or better record.

But McHale felt his team needed a drastic change of pace from the easygoing Bill Norman, and Jimmy Dykes was anything but easygoing!

The Tigers swept a Sunday doubleheader at Briggs Stadium against the New York Yankees on Dykes' first day on the job. Spurring the sweep was, appropriately, "Sunday" Charlie Maxwell, who slammed four home runs (including three in Game 2) and knocked in eight runs on the day.

Dykes' fiery, aggressive style of managing captivated Tigers players and fans. Gradually the team recovered from their awful start, and by mid-June the Tigers were 32-27 and in third place, just 1.5 games out of first.

Alas, the Tigers couldn't keep up the pace and fell back to their usual .500-ish record---76-78, fourth place, 18 games out of first. Typical for the Tigers in the latter half of the 1950s.

But the recovery from the horrific 2-15 start gave Tigers fans reason to hope that Jimmie Dykes was the man who could lead their team to the promised land.

As for individual performances, Kuenn won the American League batting title with a .353 mark. Kaline batted .327 and smacked 27 home runs. Maxwell hit 31 homers and led the Tigers in RBI with 95. Pitching-wise, three hurlers won 17 games each: Bunning, Mossi and Lary, with Bunning leading the league in strikeouts with 201.

By GregEno
 

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Tagged:
Al Kaline, Bill Norman, Charlie Maxwell, Detroit Tigers, Don Mossi, Frank Lary, Harvey Kuenn, Jim Bunning, Jimmie Dykes, John McHale, Paul Foytack

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