No team wanted to put its 1996 season behind them more than the Tigers, as they gathered in Lakeland for spring training in February.

Eager to infuse new blood, the lineup had a distinctly different look.

Tony Clark was the new starting first baseman. At 2B was Damion Easley, acquired the previous July from California. Travis Fryman was back at 3B, and the new SS was 24 year-old Deivi Cruz, acquired in December from the Dodgers. In the outfield, the Tigers acquired speedster Brian Hunter from the Houston Astros in a big off-season deal that sent C Brad Ausmus to the Astros.

On the mound, the Tigers were excited by young lefty Justin Thompson, their first round draft choice of 1991. Thompson fueled that excitement by making 32 starts, pitching 223 innings,  and going 15-11 with a 3.02 ERA.

Also new to the pitching staff were Brian Moehler, Doug Brocail and Willie Blair, among many others, as the Tigers tried to wash their hands of the miserable staff of 1996.

Manager Buddy Bell had a year under his belt and observers noted that with his revamped roster, the "real" Bell as a manager would be seen in 1997.

After 132 games, the Tigers were 61-71. But then they ended on a high note, rising to 79-78 in the season's final week. The Tigers lost their last five games to finish 79-83, but it was a 26-game improvement from 1996. A big reason was pitching; the Tigers' team ERA was 4.56, nearly two runs below that of 1996.

Clark, Easley and Fryman formed an infield trio with some punch; the three combined for 76 HR and 291 RBI. LF Bobby Higginson, another young player with potential, had 27 HR and 101 RBI. The speedy Hunter stole 74 bases, leading the league and the most for a Tiger since the days of Ty Cobb. Hunter also scored 112 runs.

1998 was looking like it could be a good year for the Tigers.

By GregEno
Bobby Higginson, Brad Ausmus, Brian Hunter, Brian Moehler, Buddy Bell, Damion Easley, Deivi Cruz, Detroit Tigers, Doug Brocail, Justin Thompson, Randy Smith, Tony Clark, Ty Cobb, Willie Blair


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