The 1993 Detroit Tigers-Sparky Anderson’s Last Great Team Part 2
The 1993 Detroit Tigers had power, could draw walks and could hit. The lack of pitching would cost Sparky Anderson’s chance to possibly upend the Toronto Blue Jays one last time in the AL East. This is the second part of a two-part series.
The year 1993 was significant in Detroit Tigers’ history for four reasons. Firstly, it was the last Tigers team over .500 until 2006. As Brian Johnston would point out, it was also the final year of the Tigers block “Detroit” on their away uniforms. Ernie Harwell was back as the Tigers radio voice. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker both were free agents heading into the winter of 1992, and the Tigers resigned each of them. Both signings were stark in contrast to how they eventually turned out.
Trammell was limited to only 29 games due to a broken ankle in 1992. So General Manager Jerry Walker made his contract incentive-laden that would kick in for the 1994 season if Trammell could stay healthy. He took a cut in his base pay from his 1992 contract but he didn’t mind.
"‘I’m happy this is over and I can concentrate on just getting myself ready for the ’93 season, Detroit is now my home and the Tigers are family. I didn’t even want to think about playing anywhere else. Source-UPI"
Whitaker, on the other hand, was almost an Atlanta Brave. Atlanta offered three years and at that time, the Tigers were only offering two years. Whitaker said if the Tigers did not throw in the third year, he would have gone to Atlanta. So, Jerry Walker, had his team set heading into spring training. Or so we all thought.
Exit Rico, Enter David
The Tigers top position prospect Rico Brogna was not happy. After getting called up in August of 1992 for a short time, he was sent back to Toledo to start the 1993 season. He batted .364 in spring so he had a justifiable cause to complain. He was the team’s first-round pick in 1988 and played through the minors well. He reportedly asked for a trade after a conservation with Sparky Andreson. Even in September call ups, Brogna was not added to the roster after hitting .273 with 11 home runs. With Cecil Fielder firmly entrenched as the team’s first baseman, he was traded to the New York Mets in March of 1994.
Enter David Wells.
After the Blue Jays acquired centerfielder Darrin Jackson, Toronto released David Wells to make room for Jackson’s salary. The Tigers were interested in Jackson because of concerns about Milt Cuyler, who limited due to injuries. Instead, San Diego dealt him to Toronto. Before they picked up Wells, the Tigers picked up Bob MacDonald from the Jays as another lefty to the bullpen.
After the Tigers exhibition game against the Blue Jays in Vancouver, the Tigers signed Wells on April 3rd, 1993. Wells was used as a reliever primary in Toronto and wanted to start. However, he and manager Cito Gatson clashed about his role. He came to Detroit on the promise he would be used as a starter. Tom Bolton, the lefty who the Tigers signed in the off-season, was placed in the bullpen.
The bats come out hot
After coming back 2-4 from the west coast, Detroit’s home opener in 1993 was a memorable one. They hosted the Oakland A’s, who they faced on Opening Day. Mike Moore would take the hill as the team’s home Opening Day starter. He was looking to avenge his Opening Day loss on April 5th. In front of almost 50,000 fans on a mid-50’s day on April 13th, the Tigers won 20-4. It was the most runs scored in a home opener in team history and it marked the first time they would score 20 in one game since 1937.
However, they would score 20 runs again four days later against Seattle. 20 runs, 20 hits and 10 walks in one game. Between Oakland and Seattle in their first two home series, they outscored them 62-26. On April 24th, the Tigers would be in first place, leading baseball in home runs runs scored and were getting solid pitching with a team ERA of 3.82 in April and a respectable 4.10 in May. They were holding off the defending World Series champs Jays as best as they could. But then came June.
On the 22nd of June.
June 22nd was a significant date for Toronto and Detroit. For the Blue Jays, it was the day that John Olerud’s hitting streak came to an end. He had 26 game hitting streak and was hitting .411 as of June 22nd. In fact, until August, he would hit .400 as Toronto would go 16-9 in the month of June.
The Tigers, on the other hand, their pitching started to crumble. On June 22nd, the Tigers started a 10 game losing streak on the east coast swing of Baltimore, Boston, and New York and coming home to a loss to the Rangers. Closer Mike Henneman did not pick up a save for nearly a month. July was not too kind to the Tigers, going 10-18 and giving up 169 runs. As a staff in the months of June and July, they gave up 82 home runs. Despite the 18-11 August and the trade for Eric Davis to shore up their centerfield situation, the Tigers could not recover.
What made this team so good?
If you think about modern baseball, you think walk rate and power and the Tigers had it. They lead the league in runs scored with 899 runs, lead the league in walks with 765 and at the same time, lead the league in strikeouts with 1122. There were a few players who really stood out stat wise
- Chad Kreuter. He would produce a bWAR of 4.1 with an 11.4% walk rate and wRC+ of 127. This was the best season of his career for the catcher
- Mickey Tettleton, utility man. Tettleton is primarily known as a catcher but in 1993, he would play 48 games at first base, 18 in left field and 39 in right. He also walked at a 17.1% clip. To have two catchers at that clip astonishes me.
- Tony Phillips. One of the best seasons of any Tiger in the decade. Like Tettleton, played all over, walked more than he struck out (132 walks to 102 strikeouts) and a bWAR of 5.6.
This team will always stand out to me because they were never out of a game. Just imagine if Sparky had an ace or two.