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The Tigers, in 1998, made their first managerial change during a season since 1979, when Sparky Anderson took over for Les Moss. Now Larry Parrish had a spring training and a full season to show what he could do as skipper.

The Tigers had a new third baseman---Dean Palmer, signed as a free agent. Palmer was a veteran slugger who'd been in the big leagues on a regular basis since 1991, first with Texas then with Kansas City. Palmer replaced Joe Randa, who was traded to the Mets in the off-season as the Tigers reacquired pitcher Willie Blair.

Palmer slammed 34 homers and had 119 RBI with the Royals in 1998, and GM Randy Smith hoped he could be a significant upgrade over Randa, who had little power, though Randa may have been a better fielder.

The Tigers also addressed their pitching, as they almost overhauled their entire rotation from 1998. Brian Moehler returned, but new to the Tigers were Dave Mlicki (acquired from the Dodgers in April), Blair, and rookie Jeff Weaver, the team's first round draft pick of the year before.

But the Tigers got some bad news as young southpaw Justin Thompson encountered arm trouble and made 24 rocky starts, posting an ERA of over 5.00.

The season started drearily, as the Tigers won in Texas on Opening Day, 11-5, but then their bats vanished as they dropped their next six games, scoring a total of 12 runs while being shutout three times.

Then, when the Tigers found their offense, their pitching betrayed them. As a result, the Tigers found themselves in a number of games with scores like 10-8; usually, the Tigers were on the losing end of such scores.

It wasn't long before the Tigers were out of the race, so the focus was turned to the fate of Tiger Stadium. The Tigers would be moving into Comerica Park in 2000, so as the season wound down in 1999, fans, players and the media waxed nostalgic about the old ballpark, which had been the site of Tigers baseball since 1912.

Meanwhile, Palmer was on his way to a 38 home run season with an even 100 RBI. 1B Tony Clark was now entrenched and he clubbed 31 homers. 2B Damion Easley added 20 bombs. New LF Juan Encarnacion  showed potential by hitting 19 homers and stealing 33 bases. But Bobby Higginson, shifted to RF, played in just 107 games and wasn't very productive when he did play.

Moehler slipped, too---he was 10-16 with a 5.04 ERA. Mlicki went 14-12, but rookie Weaver (9-12, 5.55) and Thompson were inconsistent. Todd Jones saved 30 games, but the Tigers' foray into Japan to sign reliever Masao Kida failed, as Kida had an ERA of 6.26 in 64 innings.

As the season entered its final week, lots of tears were shed as the realization hit that Tiger Stadium would soon be history as the Tigers' ballpark.

As a tribute in the last game played there, on September 27, 1999, Tigers players wore uniform numbers of famous Tigers of the past. Young Robert Fick, the DH that day, wore no. 25 in honor of Norm Cash. Stormin' Norman would have been proud, as Fick blasted a grand slam, leading the Tigers to an 8-2 win over Kansas City.

After the game, great Tigers of the past were introduced and they jogged onto the field from center field, enabling them to enjoy one last cheer from the Tigers faithful, on the field where they once captivated fans.

For the record, the 1999 Tigers finished 69-92, in third place in the AL Central.

By GregEno
 

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Tagged:
Bobby Higginson, Brian Moehler, Damion Easley, Dave Mlicki, Dean Palmer, Detroit Tigers, Jeff Weaver, Joe Randa, Juan Encarnacion, Justin Thompson, Larry Parrish, Masao Kida, Norm Cash, Randy Smith, Robert Fick, Tiger Stadium, Todd Jones, Tony Clark, Willie Blair

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