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The Tigers were defending World Champs for the first time since 1946 as they headed to spring training in 1969. On paper, they looked like the team to beat, as just about every key player was returning.

A big change occurred in Major League Baseball---two changes, actually. The first was the addition of four expansion teams: the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals in the American League, and the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres in the NL. The second was the splitting of each league into two six-team divisions to accomodate the new 12-team circuits.

The Tigers were in the AL East, along with the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Washington Senators.

But as April gave way to May, it was apparent that the Tigers were not the seemingly unbeatable bunch that they had been the year prior. As they struggled to edge over .500, the Orioles were cruising. By the All-Star break, the O's were 65-31 and 11 games ahead of the second place Tigers.

The Orioles never seemed to lose, and even though the Tigers finished with 90 wins, they were a full 19 lengths behind manager Earl Weaver's team.

Denny McLain won 24 games and shared the Cy Young Award with Baltimore's Mike Cuellar. Willie Horton led the team in home runs with 28. But second baseman Dick McAuliffe, usually very durable, played in just 74 games due to injury. Al Kaline slugged 21 homers but he missed 31 games as well.

After the season, manager Mayo Smith fired pitching coach Johnny Sain due to irreconcilable differences. The Tigers were no longer league champs; but could they get back on top in 1970?

By GregEno
 

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Tagged:
Al Kaline, Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers, Dick McAuliffe, Johnny Sain, Kansas City Royals, Mayo Smith, Mike Cuellar, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Seattle Pilots, Willie Horton

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