With Billy Martin fired---and hired by the Texas Rangers just days after being let go by the Tigers in September 1973---the Tigers were again in the market for a manager. And, again, the Tigers were looking for the antithesis of what they just had. They wanted fiery when they hired Martin, and now the Tigers wanted a calmer manager who could work with young players.
That man turned out to be Ralph Houk, the longtime Yankees manager and former GM in New York. Houk managed the Yankees during their transition from being on top to blending in youth during the 1960s and the early-1970s. Tigers GM Jim Campbell committed himself to a youth movement after the 1973 club failed to win the division and the roster was growing very old. The 1968 heroes were simply too old.
Houk didn't have the horses that Mayo Smith or even Martin had, but he was a patient man who worked well with kids.
The highlight of the '74 season was Al Kaline's drive to 3,000 career hits. The 39-year-old star had declared that 1974 would be his last year, whether he got to 3,000 or not. But he did, in his hometown of Baltimore, in September.
Kaline was the Tigers' everyday designated hitter, the rule that was in its second, trial season. No longer would fans be able to see Al play right field, but at least he was in the lineup almost every game; Kaline appeared in 147 contests.
The Tigers weren't very good in 1974 because they were too old and their young players weren't quite ready. In August, Campbell cut mainstay Norm Cash and traded Jim Northrup to Montreal.
An exciting new player was center fielder Ron LeFlore, who had been signed from the prison yard, a convicted felon. LeFlore was fast and he stole a lot of bases, something no Tigers player had really done for years. LeFlore impressed Martin during a 1973 workout, and the Tigers signed him. LeFlore made his debut on August 1, and he ended up batting .260 with 23 stolen bases.
Overall, the Tigers finished last in the division with a 72-90 record. Mickey Lolich lost a league-high 21 games, and reliever/spot starter John Hiller had an amazing 31 decisions (17-14).
Houk had his work cut out for him, but even "The Major" didn't foresee what was to happen in 1975.By GregEno
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- Al Kaline, Billy Martin, Detroit Tigers, Jim Northrup, John Hiller, Mayo Smith, Norm Cash, Ralph Houk, Ron LeFlore