The Tigers had experienced two straight years of frustration as they readied themselves for the 1983 season. In 1981, they lost the half division flag to the Milwaukee Brewers on the final weekend. In 1982, they saw a promising season get ruined by an awful June swoon.
But they still felt that they were primed for a run at the playoffs. Their young talent was now veteran, and the fruits of the drafts in the 1970s were coming forth. Players like Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Dave Rozema were seasoned Tigers, and other younger players had been traded for capable hands such as Chet Lemon, Enos Cabell, Larry Herndon and Johnny Grubb.
The 1983 Tigers were arguably the most talented group to play in Detroit since the glory years of 1968 and 1972.
And they were being managed by the venerable Sparky Anderson, who was trying to become the first manager to win a World Series while skippering teams from both leagues.
But the East Division was loaded with good teams; winning the flag would be no easy task.
The task was made more difficult when the Tigers limped out of the gate, struggling to reach the .500 mark after 40 games had been played. But unlike the year prior, the Tigers caught fire in June, and zoomed to a 39-30 record to lift themselves into a three-way tie for first place with the Baltimore Orioles and the surprising Toronto Blue Jays.
As August began, the Tigers stayed nipping on the Orioles' heels, with the Blue Jays and the New York Yankees not far behind. The Orioles, however, began to slowly but surely separate themselves from the rest of the pack, and by Labor Day the O's had cobbled together a four-game lead over the Brewers, Yankees and Tigers.
Everyone faded except for the Tigers---and the Orioles. On September 14, the Tigers won their sixth straight game but remained 5.5 games behind Baltimore. A week later, the Orioles visited Detroit for a four-game series. Later in the month, the Tigers were to visit Baltimore for three games. The Tigers pretty much needed to sweep all seven games, baseball observers noted, in order to have a chance to win the division.
Alas, the Tigers could do no better than beat the Orioles in five of the seven games, which weren't nearly enough. The Tigers did finish in second place, winning 92 games and ending up six lengths behind the Orioles.
Individually, several Tigers starred. Parrish had a monster year (27/114/.269). Lemon (24) and Herndon (20) each had at least 20 home runs. Whitaker had over 200 hits and batted a robust .320, while double play partner Trammell hit at a .319 clip. Both Lou and Alan added power to their repertoire; Trammell had 14 homers and Whitaker, 12.
Morris won 20 games, and Petry won 19---missing out on 20 on the last game of the year. Rozema, however, wasn't the same pitcher after blowing out his knee in 1982 while trying to execute a karate kick during a brawl with the Minnesota Twins.
And once again, Gibson battled injuries, missing over 30 games and batting just .227, sometimes drawing the wrath of the fans at Tiger Stadium. But one of his 15 home runs cleared the right field roof.
The end result still wasn't what the Tigers were seeking, but they did finish second and gave the Orioles a battle long after other teams dropped from the race.
As manager Sparky said later of those final seven games with the Orioles, "At least it was between us and them. That's all you can ask for."By GregEno
- Alan Trammell, Chet Lemon, Dan Petry, Dave Rozema, Detroit Tigers, Enos Cabell, Jack Morris, Johnny Grubb, Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish, Larry Herndon, Lou Whitaker, Sparky Anderson, Tiger Stadium