The Tigers had won 101 games in 1961 yet finished a demoralizing eight games behind the first-place Yankees. But the team was in the thick of the race until an ill-fated Labor Day Weekend trip to New York sent them into a slide from which they couldn't recover. So the Tigers felt like they were maybe one poorly timed losing streak away from staying in the hunt until the very end.

Their "Murderer's Row," Motown version, of 1B Norm Cash, LF Rocky Colavito and RF Al Kaline were all in their prime. In fact, just about all the major players of the '61 team were back, including the pitching staff, which fueled the optimism.

Even manager Bob Scheffing was back, in a role that the Tigers had been struggling to find stability at in recent years.

The Yankees still looked like the team to beat "on paper," but the Tigers figured they had a pretty good squad, too.

But by mid-May, the Tigers were hardly showing it. They were 13-16 and nowhere near first place. Then, every time it looked like the Tigers were going to make a move, they'd hit a cold streak and tumble back into the middle of the pack.

Twice within a month (between mid-June and mid-July), the Tigers suffered through a crippling seven-game losing streak that undid all they had done.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were duking it out with the surprising Minnesota Twins for league supremacy. The Yankees triumped, as usual.

Cash, Colavito and Kaline combined for 105 home runs and 295 RBI---but Kaline only played in  100 games due to injury. His 29 HR in 398 AB would be the best HR percentage of his career. Cash went from hitting .361 in 1961 to .243 in 1962---further evidence that his story of playing with a corked bat in '61 was likely true.

On the mound, Jim Bunning won 19 games and lefty Hank Aguirre posted the league's best ERA at 2.21.

Still, it only added up to a fourth place finish and an 85-76 record, 10.5 games off the pace. The team wasn't as close as it thought to pennant contention, after all.

By GregEno

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