Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Catfight: 1984 Tigers vs. 2013 Tigers



It’s way too early to be thinking about the World Series, isn’t it? I mean, it’s only April. Odds are, between players joining the team later on from the minors and whatever the July trade deadline brings, this team we’re watching now isn’t going to completely resemble the one we see in late September. And injuries may happen. The Royals could finally stop being terrible. The White Sox are always in the hunt. The Indians could make a run...
Well, maybe not that last one. UbaLOLdo and company are awful. #RaburnForMVP

Anyway, the Tigers are the early pick of many to be this year’s World Series champs and ever since the surprise 2006 team, Detroit has been salivating over the idea of winning it all for the first time since 1984. Mike Ilitch appears all-in and will do anything in his power to help make it happen. It’s a good time to be a Tigers fan.

We can’t see the future but we can compare this year’s squad to the Bless You Boys squad of ’84 to pass the time. That’s what I thought I’d do today.

Time for a Catfight. Let’s see who the better team is.

(Note: Sparky Anderson wasn't exactly known for having a set lineup. Different guys DH’d all the time. Third base saw a different face every day. I’m using the roster as presented here at Baseball-Reference.com’s 1984 Tigers page. So keep that in mind before you yell at me.)

CATCHER

’84 Tigers: Lance Parrish
’13 Tigers: Alex Avla

Comparison: Lance is, with the probable exception of Bill Freehan, arguably the greatest catcher in Tigers history. He was a Gold Glover behind the dish and a powerhouse at the plate, hitting a team-high 33 home runs in 1984. He was the first player I tried to imitate as a child on the baseball diamond as I started in Little League as a catcher.

Avila is still a bit of a question mark early in his career. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but also slumps for long periods of time. There’s also a legit 50% chance that he could die on the field on any given day due to the punishment the poor guy takes.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. Alex might top Lance one day, but this isn’t that day.

FIRST BASE

’84 Tigers: Dave Bergman
’13 Tigers: Prince Fielder

Comparison: Bergman was a solid player that’s quite underrated and often forgotten when people look back at the heroes of Detroit’s past. He put up an OPS+ of 113 in 120 games in 1984 and had what many fans remember as one of the greatest at bat in Tigers history. On June 4, Bergie came to bat in the 11th inning with two men on and two outs in a game against the Blue Jays. Dave fouled off seven pitches, and on a full count launched the 13th pitch he saw into Tiger Stadium’s upper deck for a walk-off, three-run home run in a seven minute at bat.

Prince Fielder is a beast at the plate and a legitimate MVP candidate every season. He’s not very good in the field, but he gives maximum effort and plays every day. He’s hit 50 homers in the past and I wouldn’t bet on the big guy doing it again this season.

Advantage: ’13 Tigers. Not even close. Sorry, Bergie.

SECOND BASE

’84 Tigers: Lou Whitaker
’13 Tigers: Omar Infante

Comparison: “Sweet” Lou was a Gold Glover and swung a solid stick as the leadoff man for the Tigers for years. He was a quiet star and received little to no consideration when it came time for him to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. That’s apparently not a crime, but it should be.

Omar’s the best second baseman the team has seen since Placido Polanco, but that’s not really saying much. But he’s got a decent glove and shows occasional pop at the plate. He’s probably the best #9 hitter in baseball right now.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. Lou deserves a statue Comerica Park’s left field with his double play partner. We’ll get to that guy in a minute…

THIRD BASE

’84 Tigers: Howard Johnson
’13 Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

Comparison: HoJo hit 12 homers in his first full MLB season in 1984 and split time at third with Darrell Evans, Barbaro Garbey, Tom Brookens, and Marty Castillo. He would be traded to the Mets in December for Walt Terrell and become one of baseball’s best power hitters for years in the Big Apple.

Miguel Cabrera is the defending AL MVP, a Triple Crown winner, and the greatest Tigers hitter since Ty Cobb. I watch him every day and still say “wow” at the man’s ability on the diamond. And he’s better on defense than anyone ever gave him a chance of being at third base after moving over from first last season.

Advantage: ’13 Tigers. Big Mig is untouchable.

SHORTSTOP

’84 Tigers: Alan Trammell
’13 Tigers: Jhonny Peralta

Comparison: Trammell is yet another Gold Glover from the 1984 bunch. He led the team in hitting at .314, was the MVP of the World Series, and was the personal hero to thousands in the mid-to-late 80’s, including myself. To this day, he hasn’t received much buzz for the Hall of Fame, but he remains on the ballot. The Tigers amaze me that they haven’t retired Tram and Whitaker’s numbers yet. Plus there’s that yet-to-be-made statue that I mentioned earlier. Get it done, Tigers.

Jhonny Peralta’s okay. Not much more I have to say there.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. C’mon.

*Note: We’ve reached the outfield now and this is where it gets difficult.

LEFT FIELD

’84 Tigers: Larry Herndon
’13 Tigers: Andy Dirks

Comparison: Herndon was a solid ballplayer that hit the game winning home run of Game One of the World Series in 1984. He also caught the fly ball that ended up being the final out of the Series. He wasn’t a very good fielder, though, and his best years actually came in the two seasons before the Tigers won the championship.

Dirks is only 25 and has yet to play more than 88 games in a season. The potential is there, but he needs to show us he can be solid over an entire season and hit left-handed pitching. He was outstanding in limited time last season.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. Larry wasn’t an All-Star, but I give him the nod over Dirks. Ask me again in a year’s time.

CENTER FIELD

’84 Tigers: Chet Lemon
’13 Tigers: Austin Jackson

Comparison: Wow…two of my favorites. Lemon had a 6.2 WAR and an OPS+ of 135 in his All-Star campaign of 1984. Chester was outstanding patrolling all 440 feet of Tiger Stadium’s center field and is one of the most beloved players in team history.

AJax is looking to be a future superstar. He’s amazing in the field and is getting better at the plate every day putting up a WAR of 5.4 last season. He’s making more and more people forget about Curtis Granderson with each outstanding game he plays.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. Chet was the total package in 1984. Jackson may end up being the total package this year. This has been the toughest call to make so far, but I’ve got to go with Lemon right now.

RIGHT FIELD

’84 Tigers: Kirk Gibson
’13 Tigers: Torii Hunter

Comparison: Gibby was the straw that stirred the drink for the 1984 team. He led the team with an OPS+ of 142, hitting .282/.363/.516 with 27 homers and 91 RBI. His at bat in Game 5 of the World Series is the stuff of legends when Goose Gossage refused to walk Gibson with first base open and runners on second and third. The famous footage shows Sparky Anderson yelling “He don’t want to walk you!” from the dugout. Goose got his wish to pitch to Gibson and...how'd that turn out again?
Oh yeah. Gibby took him deep for the three-run home run that iced the Series for Detroit.

Torii Hunter is a special ballplayer. As of this writing he’s hitting .414 early in his first Tigers season. He’s a multiple time Gold Glove winner coming off of the finest season of his 16 year career. He may be the bat that puts the Tigers over the top this year.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. Torii’s 37 years old and it will be hard for him to keep this up all year. I hope he does, but we all wind down sometime. Gibby was in his prime in ’84 and he just edges out Hunter in my mind.

DESIGNATED HITTER

’84 Tigers: Darrell Evans
’13 Tigers: Victor Martinez

Comparison: I personally consider Darrell Evans the most underrated player in MLB history. He’s still 47th all-time in home runs and 12th in history in walks. But 1984, oddly enough, was a down year for him in his first American League season. He still put up solid numbers, though.

V-Mart missed all of last season due to injury and is experiencing some bad BABIP luck so far this year. But he’s a career .302 hitter, always seems to come through in the clutch, and is the closest thing this team has to a true leader on the field (for those of you that like that sort of thing).

Advantage: ’13 Tigers. Welcome back, Victor.

BENCH

’84 Tigers: Barbaro Garbey, Tom Brookens, Ruppert Jones, Johnny Grubb, Rusty Kuntz, Marty Castillo.
’13 Tigers: Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago, Matt Tuiasosopo, Bryan Pena, Danny Worth (at some point)

Comparison:  All of the ’84 guys listed here played in at least 70 games. As I said earlier, Sparky liked to switch things up. Simonson would have had a heart attack covering this team. But each of them were talented players rounding out one of the most complete ballclubs in MLB history.

This year’s Tiger bench is an abortion. You all know how I feel about that by now.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers. Get us some depth, Dave.

STARTING PITCHING

’84 Tigers: Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox, Juan Berenguer, Dave Rozema
’13 Tigers: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello

Comparison: Morris threw a no-hitter early in 1984 to set the pace for this staff early on. None of them had an ERA over 4.00 for the season and Jack and Petry were the best 1-2 punch in baseball that year.

Verlander has a chance to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound. Fister, Max, and Sanchez would all be #1 or #2 starters on most ballclubs. And Porcello is many experts’ choice to finally break out this season.

Advantage: ’13 Tigers. The 1984 rotation was damn good, but it was a different time with less offense in the league. I think this year’s group is the most impressive rotation I’ve ever seen in Detroit and is the best in baseball right now.

BULLPEN

’84 Tigers: Willie Hernandez, Aurelio Lopez, Doug Bair, Sid Monge, Bill Scherrer
’13 Tigers: See photo below
Comparison: There is none. Hernandez won the MVP and Cy Young Award in 1984 and Lopez was right behind him in being dominant. This year’s group, at least so far, is…well, just look at the picture again.

Advantage: ’84 Tigers

FINAL SCORE

’84 Tigers: 8
’13 Tigers: 4
Well, a team that started 35-5 and finished with 104 wins wasn’t going to be easy to beat. There’s a reason the 1984 Tigers are such a special part of every Tiger fan’s memories. They were a team without any true traditional superstars, a rare championship team with no Hall of Famers, yet they were as much of a complete team as any in history.

It’s closer than that 8-4 score appears, though. Those outfield comparisons could easily be different in your eyes making the score 6-6-1 if you prefer Austin and Dirks and call right field a draw. But still, this year’s bunch lacks depth and that bullpen needs to be addressed at some point. 

With any luck, we'll be talking about the '13 Tigers the way people do the '84 champs. But we've still got a long way to go to get there.

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