The Tigers' disappointing 1963 season behind them, they were ready to get back into the business of pennant contention, something they got a big taste of in 1961 and were still seeking to recapture.
Manager Charlie Dressen wouldn't have his big slugging left fielder, however. Rocky Colavito was sent to the hapless Kansas City A's in November '63 for infielder Jerry Lumpe and pitchers Ed Rakow and Dave Wickersham. Part of the reason, it was widely speculated, was due to a contract dispute that Rocky engaged in with the Tigers the previous spring.
Dressen turned to Detroit-born Gates Brown, a former convicted felon, to play left field. Gates was the author of one of the best quotes in baseball history. When asked what he took in high school, the Gator said, "I took some math, some science, some hubcaps and some wheel covers."
The core of the 1960s Tigers were coming together nicely. Catcher Bill Freehan was entrenched, as were 1B Norm Cash, 2B Dick McAuliffe, 3B Don Wert, and Brown and Al Kaline in the outfield. Center field was still manned by swift Bill Bruton.
On the mound, longtime Tiger Jim Bunning had been traded to Philadelphia, along with catcher Gus Triandos. But with newcomers Rakow and Wickersham, and young lefty Mickey Lolich coming onto the scene, Dressen's rotation wasn't too shabby.
But it took a while for the '64 Tigers to jell. In early-June they were 18-26 and floundering. Dressen's fiery, "tough love" approach was questioned, especially in the case of young Willie Horton, another Detroit kid. The 21-year-old Horton began the season with the big league team, but struggled mightily before being sent back down to the minors. Critics wondered if Dressen's abrasive demeanor was a contributing factor to young Willie's struggles.
Regardless, the Tigers played better baseball as the season wore on. A seven-game winning streak in early-August finally put them over the .500 standard. It was too late to get into the pennant chase, but the Tigers ended up with a respectable 85-77 record, good enough for fourth place.
McAuliffe, surprisingly, led the Tigers in home runs with 24. Kaline slumped to 17 homers and 68 RBI, though he did hit .293. Brown was no Colavito (he hit only 15 homers) but his Detroit roots and roly-poly body endeared him to Tigers fans.
Wickersham won 19 games in his first season as a Tiger, and Lolich impressed with an 18-9 record and 192 strikeouts.By GregEno
- Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Chuck Dressen, Dave Wickersham, Detroit Tigers, Dick McAuliffe, Don Wert, Ed Rakow, Gates Brown, Gus Triandos, Jerry Lumpe, Jim Bunning, Mickey Lolich, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Willie Horton