The Tigers felt like they had the pieces in place to make a serious run at the 1965 pennant. They may have thought that in recent seasons, too, but the play of their homegrown talent in 1964 made them excited. And, left fielder Willie Horton was one more year matured and was ready to seize the starting job.
Catcher Bill Freehan hit an even .300 in 1964. Gates Brown did a good job in left field, keeping the seat warm for Horton. 1B Norm Cash was, well, Norm Cash---as was RF Al Kaline. The pitching staff was formidable, especially including homegrown Mickey Lolich.
There was plenty for manager Charlie Dressen to be excited about. Unfortunately, the high-strung Dressen would get a little too excited.
In spring training, following Dressen's annual chili party in which he made a huge batch of chili for his players and coaches, the manager felt chest pains. He had one of the coaches drive him to the airport, making up a story about his wife being ill. Turns out it was Dressen who was ill; he checked himself into a California hospital as soon as his plane landed.
Dressen's heart attack meant that coach Bob Swift would manage the team at the start of the season, and for as long as Dressen needed to recuperate. Whatever good feeling the Tigers had about their chances in 1965 was muted by their manager's medical condition.
But the Tigers were 24-18 under Swift, nestled in third place, just three games out of first place when Dressen returned to action on May 31. The American League standings were a bunched up grouping of teams, with six teams within a few games of each other. The Tigers were one of those teams for most of the summer.
But by early-August, the Minnesota Twins had begun to pull away from the rest of the pack, thanks to a 30-11 stretch after the All-Star break.
The Tigers finished 89-73, an improvement from 1964 but still 13 games out of first place, and still in fourth place. Dressen's heart attack could have been used as an excuse, but the Tigers refused and played good baseball under both Swift and Dressen.
The 22-year-old Horton had a fantastic year (29/104/.273). Cash hit 30 home runs. Kaline missed 37 games but still managed to hit 18 homers and drive in 72 runs.
Lolich won 15 games and a third-year right-hander named Dennis McLain chipped in with 16 wins and a 2.61 ERA at age 21.
The Tigers had a good season, but were again left wondering if they could have done even better.By GregEno
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- Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Bob Swift, Chuck Dressen, Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers, Gates Brown, Mickey Lolich, Minnesota Twins, Norm Cash, Willie Horton