The craziness of 1960 behind them, the Tigers looked forward to a season of few distractions in 1961.
There was a new owner, however---broadcasting mogul John E. Fetzer. After purchasing the team, Fetzer changed the name of the ballpark to Tiger Stadium and restored the Old English D to the front of the home uniforms after a one year absence. Flashy GM Bill DeWitt left the team to work for the Cincinnati Reds.
The first order of business was to look for a new manager---again.
Joe Gordon, acquired from Cleveland when the Tigers swapped managers in 1960, didn't want any part of the Tigers after the season concluded. So the Tigers brass---new owner Fetzer, GM Rick Ferrell and assistant GM Jim Campbell---set out to find a new field general.
Their search took them to California, where they tried to coax Casey Stengel out of his forced retirement. Stengel, let go by the Yankees after the 1960 World Series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, was 70 and despite his claims otherwise, was deemed by the Yankees to be too old to continue managing.
The more the Tigers people talked to Stengel, the more he liked the notion of managing the team. He even picked a coaching staff. But Stengel's wife insisted he undergo a physical examination first. And, sadly for the Tigers, Stengel's doctor determined it would be unwise for Stengel to return to the dugout.
Disappointed, the Tigers turned to veteran baseball man Bob Scheffing, who'd managed the Cubs from 1957-59. Once again, critics were concerned about the new Tigers manager's lack of success; the most games Scheffing's Cubs won in his three seasons as skipper was a paltry 74.
But the Tigers had a new "Murderer's Row" in Norm Cash, Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito. They had a fleet-footed center fielder in Billy Bruton, a triple machine in 2B Jake Wood, and a strong starting rotation in Frank Lary, Jim Bunning, Paul Foytack and Don Mossi.
For once, the Tigers played up to and beyond their talent level. They got off to a rousing 13-5 start and throughout the summer battled the Yankees for league supremacy. Cash was unconscious, hitting at a .360 clip. Colavito was slamming home runs at a rate of almost one for every three games. Kaline was Kaline.
Then came a monumental three-game series at Yankee Stadium during Labor Day weekend. The Tigers entered New York just 1.5 games behind the Yankees. But when the Tigers left, they had been swept and were 4.5 games out.
The Tigers' losing skid reached eight games, and they never recovered.
But the Tigers still won 101 games, albeit a distant eight games behind the Yankees.
Cash won the batting crown with a .361 average, to go with his 41 homers and 132 RBI. However, Cash would admit years later that he used a cork bat during the '61 season. Kaline led the league in doubles with 41 and Wood had the most triples in the league (14).
Lary had a Cy Young-type year (23-9, 3.24 ERA) and Bunning won 17 games and Mossi, 15.
The Tigers had pulled off a rarity---the 100-win season that did NOT result in the pennant. But it was their best season since the World Series winning year of 1945.By GregEno
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- Al Kaline, Bill Bruton, Bob Scheffing, Casey Stengel, Detroit Tigers, Don Mossi, Frank Lary, Jake Wood, Jim Bunning, John Fetzer, Norm Cash, Paul Foytack, Rocky Colavito