Monday, the familiar faces gathered. They looked a bit older, of course, but were no less gregarious, recognizable or baseball wise.
The 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers were getting recognized for their contributions again, but most of the players that collected weren't overly emotional about the experience from their own personal standpoint. Conversely, they enjoyed the chance to feel the warm, collective embrace of the fans who have so long embraced them, and give them another reason to cheer. As usual, they were thinking of someone other than themselves.
"Winning the World Series was icing on the cake, especially to do it in front of the home fans," Alan Trammell said.
Lately, there's been plenty of similar October parties in Detroit for both players and fans alike, but still nothing quite like 1984. The pageantry and pandemonium of a completed mission is unlike any other feeling in baseball. 30 years later, the current Tigers haven't yet cracked the championship code.
But what did those teams of the 80's, specifically 1984, have that was so special overall? Nothing much to their own eyes.
"One person had a career year (in 1984) and that was Willie Hernandez. We had a good team," Trammell emphasized. "Somebody came through, whether it was John Grubb, Rusty Kuntz or somebody else." Both Grubb and Kuntz were more unheralded players who oftentimes helped win games for the team, proving their worth in a major way.
Lou Whitaker didn't disagree when he spoke about his overall remembrances of the squad. "We were a complete team," he said. "We had guys coming off the bench coming through." Whitaker spoke passionately about the defense employed by Chet Lemon. "Chet told Larry Herndon and Kirk Gibson to worry about their spots, and said he had everywhere else."
Unheralded contributions. Good defense. A solid team top to bottom. Each of these elements are something that the current Tigers, in one form or another, have been searching for desperately in their quest to be the first team to bring a World Series to Detroit for the first time since 1984. Hearing the importance of such elements repeated over and over by the players, it's no surprise that the 1984 Tigers were overwhelming winners.
Somehow someway, the 2014 Tigers, if they wish to fulfill a dream now 30 years deferred, have to find the same magic that the older bunch seemed to have in spades. The importance of having a cast of good players who are selfless—Trammell constantly refused to use the word "star" to refer to himself or Whitaker—makes things that much easier on everybody else. The last few years, the Tigers have come close, but haven't found the defensive or offensive consistency from outside their bigger name players to win a title.
How ironic, then, that a spectacular dive from center fielder Austin Jackson was the showcased defensive play. Additionally ironic? Detroit got a shutdown inning from newcomer Blaine Hardy, singles from rookie Nick Castellanos and much maligned Alex Avila, a walk from Jackson and a grand slam from speedy Rajai Davis to forged a late rally to win the game. Those are the kinds of baseball tricks the 1984 squad turned routinely that these Tigers will need to see in October if they want the ultimate celebration.
Much like the days of Trammell, Whitaker and Jack Morris, they'll have to find a way to get contributions from others not named Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander while maintaining a "next man up" attitude. The 1984 team, and likely every significant title winner since, can attest that this is the best key to championship success.
The 2014 Tigers do have a chance at making special history, and fortunately, they had perhaps the best mid-season guest lecture series a championship contender could possibly hope to get. Now, it's up to them to bottle those lessons from a special, sticky June evening for chilly October evenings possibly to come.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.Tags: Alan Trammell, Austin Jackson, Baseball, Blaine Hardy, Detroit, Detroit Tigers, Lou Whitaker, Miguel Cabrera, MLB, Rajai Davis, Victor Martinez
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