When Sparky Anderson was hired as Tigers manager in June 1979, baseball observers in Detroit were interested to see who among the current roster Sparky would keep, and who he would get rid of. As much as Sparky extolled the virtues of the Tigers' young talent pool, it was foolhearty to think that there wouldn't be some changes.
The 1979 off-season proved those observers correct.
The biggest move was the trade of .300 hitter and base stealer Ron LeFlore, who was sent to Montreal in exchange for lefthanded starter Dan Schatzeder, even up. It seemed like an uneven trade---for Montreal.
Because of the seemingly lopsidedness of the deal---even though Sparky spoke glowingly of Schatzeder's skills---it was speculated that LeFlore somehow didn't ingratiate himself to Sparky. To replace LeFlore in CF, the Tigers turned to young switch-hitter Ricky Peters.
The other big off-season move was the trade of OF Jerry Morales and 3B Phil Mankowski to the New York Mets in exchange for 1B/3B (and part-time gravedigger) Richie Hebner.
Early in the season, the Tigers dealt again, trading 1B Jason Thompson to California for OF Al Cowens, who'd starred for the Kansas City Royals in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Flourishing was young Steve Kemp, who in his fourth season with the Tigers hit 21 homers and drove in 101 runs. Lance Parrish, destined to be the team's catcher for most of the 1980s, slugged 24 home runs and batted a solid .286.
On the mound, the Tigers were in pretty good shape with emerging star Jack Morris anchoring a rotation that included RHPs Dan Petry and veteran Milt Wilcox and the lefty Schatzeder. Those four combined for 50 victories.
Someone who wasn't in good shape was Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who threw his last big league pitch for the Tigers in September, capping a season where he appeared in nine games, went 2-3, and posted a 5.68 ERA. His last hurrah was a complete game seven-hitter against the White Sox at Tiger Stadium on September 2.
The Tigers played in perhaps the toughest division in baseball. No less than five teams were over .500 in the AL East, and the Cleveland Indians were 79-81. The Tigers flirted with contention until after the All-Star break, when they faded, finishing 84-78.
Before the season, Sparky predicted the Tigers would win 90 games. They didn't, and he vowed not to make such predictions ever again.
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- Al Cowens, Dan Petry, Dan Schatzeder, Jack Morris, Jason Thompson, Jerry Morales, Lance Parrish, Mark Fidrych, Milt Wilcox, Phil Mankowski, Richie Hebner, Rick Peters, Ron LeFlore, Sparky Anderson, Steve Kemp