1984 Detroit Tigers
104 – 58 (0.642)
When he was named manager of the struggling Detroit Tigers in 1979, Sparky Anderson promised that he’d build a contender within two years. It took twice as long as he’d expected, but Sparky’s Tigers were worth the wait. After winning 92 games in 1983, the veteran club burst out of the gate in 1984 with 35 victories in their first 40 games — a major-league record. They never looked back.
Although the Tigers fell back to earth after their season-opening streak, getting swept by the Mariners and playing .500 ball over the next 40 games, Anderson’s resilient, tightly-knit team stormed back to finish with 104 victories, the highest total in the franchise’s 83-year history. In doing so, they became only the third team ever to spend an entire season at the top of the standings.
Detroit began spring training with a well-constructed, well-balanced mix of veterans who knew how to win. They were extremely talented up the middle, with All-Stars behind the plate (Lance Parrish) and in center field (Chet Lemon) and the best keystone combination in baseball — second baseman Lou Whitaker and shortstop Alan Trammell. They had a bona fide ace in Jack Morris and a solid second starter in Dan Petry. And they’d signed Darrell Evans — their first free-agent acquisition ever — to add some pop to their lineup.
But the final pieces of the puzzle arrived just before the season began. On March 24, the Tigers traded Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss to the Phillies for first baseman Dave Bergman and reliever Willie Hernandez. Bergman, a steady glove man, settled in as the Tigers’ everyday first baseman, contributing an epic tenth-inning homer to beat division rivals Toronto in June.
Hernandez teamed with talented but aging closer Aurelio Lopez to give Anderson a pair of deadly late-inning options. Lopez went 10-1 and saved 14 games, while Hernandez won nine, converted 32 of 33 save opportunities, and posted an ERA of 1.92 — earning him both MVP and Cy Young Award honors after the season. “If Toronto had them,” Anderson said of the tandem, “we’d be trailing by as much, if not more, than the Jays.”
Other keys emerged as the season progressed. Milt Wilcox won seventeen games as the club’s third starter and right fielder Kirk Gibson finally realized his potential with a .291 average, 27 homers, 91 RBIs, and a team-leading 29 stolen bases. But Gibson’s greatest contributions came in the postseason. Spectacular defensive play and key hits won him ALCS MVP honors, and he added two homers in Game Five of the World Series — including a game-sealing, three-run blast off Goose Gossage in the eighth — as the Tigers dispatched the Padres for their fourth championship.