Detroit Tigers: Looking at recent disappointing seasons to predict 2016

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1989 Detroit Tigers

I have a yearbook in my archives of Detroit Tigers memorabilia that has gone from house to house throughout childhood, college, first home and a cross-country move from Michigan to Florida. We all have those boxes that we only look at maybe once every three years when the wife tells us to clear out boxes, but there are certain things that can’t be thrown out for whatever reason.

I don’t know why I think the 1989 Tigers’ yearbook will be a collector’s item, but it is interesting nonetheless. It promotes the Tigers as the “winningest team” of the 1980’s because of their World Series victory in 1984, AL East divisional title in 1987 and near-misses in a couple other years of the decade. The last year of that decade would ruin this honor.

The year before 1989 was really the last hurrah of the 1984 champs. By that time some of the championship core was still in place, but Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris and others were starting to show signs of age. Lance Parrish had been gone for a couple of years. Matt Nokes could not sustain his shocking rookie year of 1987, but the 1988 Tigers gave it their all, finishing only one game behind the AL East champion Boston Red Sox.

It would be the closest the Tigers would get to the top for the next 18 years.

That off-season, the Tigers decided to go with a youth movement and got rid of some veterans like Tom Brookens, Pat Sheridan for journeymen Keith Moreland, Chris Brown and other hacks. They even parted ways with aging 1984 hero Darrell Evans, who had hit 22 homers at the age of 41 in ’88.

The pitching staff was a variable retirement home, consisting of Doyle Alexander, Frank Tanana and Willie Hernandez (who was going by “Guillermo” by that time). Without the support coming from the minor leagues, which were largely ignored during former owner Tom Monahan’s time, the Tigers cratered big time, losing 103 games–the most since 1975.

For Hall-0f-Fame manager Sparky Anderson, it was the first time he had to manage a lousy team. The team being bad weighed on him so much that he contemplated quitting and ultimately took a leave of absence.

Throughout my three years writing for MCB, I have always referenced what I call the dark era for Detroit Tigers’ baseball. That era began in 1989 and stretched until the end of the 2005 season.

I was young in 1989 and only knew successful Tigers’ teams in my life. For an 11-year old that lived and breathed baseball, that was a tough thing to take. I have to imagine that older fans back then may have thought that 1989 was just a one year foray into lousy baseball, but that was not the case.

While the Tigers improved in 1990, and could have been considered technically in the race for a while, behind the powerful bat of Cecil Fielder‘s 51 homers, they still finished below .500. They would finish above it in 1991 and 1993, the latter of which the team led the AL East from April through mid-June. But those would be the last contending teams for a very long time.

Next: Failed Expectations