Sunday, January 13, 2013

The core of '84: 1978 Topps Tigers RCs

The 1984 Detroit Tigers World Series champions were once again denied an entrant into the Hall of Fame earlier this week when the voters completely dropped the ball and inexplicably failed to induct ANYONE--a rare occurrence that will ultimately be remembered as a blemish on the game.  Those with votes were ostensibly trying to make a statement about the steroids era that culminated in questionable statistics and broken records, but they failed to take into account the collateral damage inflicted on other deserving players.  This left the '84 champs as one of two teams since the inception of the World Series to fail to include at least one HOF player, with the other being the '81 Dodgers (this article was published before Barry Larkin of the '90 Reds was inducted last year).  Hopefully next year those voters will have had emergency surgery to remove their heads from their asses and will FINALLY recognize Jack Morris as the Hall of Fame pitcher he was.

ANYWAY, the point of my post today was to highlight a certain Topps set that includes the RCs of four of the '84 Tigers' core players, which is an amazing group of future champions.  These four also happen to be done up in the style of one of my all-time favorite designs:  the multi-player rookie card!

 #703:  Jack Morris
Morris was Detroit's 5th-round pick in 1976.  (Two rounds later, the Tigers would select a SS from Cal-Poly named Ozzie Smith, who did not sign)  He proved to be pretty reasonably valuable to the '84 wire-to-wire champs, winning 19 games as the ace of the staff, with one of those wins being an April no-hitter against the White Sox.  He was decent in the playoffs that year as well, winning all three of his starts, including a pair in the World Series:  games one and four.
After being considered the most dominant pitcher of the 1980s, Morris added to his storied career with World Series titles with Minnesota (1991) and Toronto (1992).  While he was winless in the '92 playoffs, he won all four of his decisions in five stars with the '91 Twins, including one of the most legendary performances ever, a 10-inning tour de force in the decisive game seven.
Morris finished his career with 254 wins, 175 complete games (remember those?), and almost 2500 strikeouts.  He was a five-time All-Star with three World Series rings, and his #2 comparison is Bob Gibson.  Yes, THAT Bob Gibson.  He's an obvious Hall-of-Famer and will hopefully make it in next year in what will be his final chance.  But just as importantly, his contributions to the Tigers, especially the '84 title team, are unquestioned:  198 wins in 14 years, including some big playoff performances, as the team's clear-cut ace.

Other players on this card:
  • Andersen was Cleveland's 7th-rounder in 1971, and almost 20 years later he was famously traded by Houston to the Red Sox for a kid named Jeff Bagwell.
  • Jones was the Pirates' 4th-rounder in 1972 and would win his only start in three 1977 appearances, then never pitch in the Majors again.  Maybe that's because he looked absolutely ridiculous, even by 1970s standards.
  • Mahler was Atlanta's 10th-rounder in 1974, and he managed to eke out an eight-year career somehow.  He even pitched for the '85 Tigers, and therefore missed out on glory by one year.

#704:  Lou Whitaker
I'm pretty sure I've talked about this guy on the blog as well.  "Sweet" Lou was one half of one of the greatest double-play combinations of all-time, but he really was an excellent player in his own right.  Like Morris, Whitaker was a 5th-round pick, just a year earlier, and came from a Tigers draft class that produced only one other decent player (pitcher Jason Thompson).  It was quickly apparent that Lou by himself would make up for the sub-par draft as he beat out future-HOFer Paul Molitor for the 1978 Rookie of the Year award.  Five straight All-Star seasons beginning in 1983 cemented his status as a genuine star.
Most importantly, Whitaker gave the Tigers an above-average bat and glove at an extremely key position in a game where "strength up the middle" means a lot.  How good was he?  His number one comparison player on baseball-reference is HOFer Ryne Sandberg, and this Whitaker fan will tell you that's a very apt analysis, even if Lou was ridiculously one-and-done on the ballot. He was very good at getting on base, could provide some surprising pop when necessary, and was rock-solid with his keystone partner, Alan Trammell.
That means he was already well-established when 1984 rolled around.  That season, Whitaker would hit .289 with 13 HR and 90 runs, usually from the lead-off spot.  He didn't have an especially good ALCS against the Royals, but turned things up for the World Series, getting on base at a .409 clip and scoring six runs against the Padres.  "Sweet" Lou would build off of that success and go onto an outstanding 19-year career, spending every one of those seasons with the Tigers.  Almost 20 years after he retired, he's still the benchmark for Detroit second-baseman excellence.

Other players on this card:

  • Iorg was actually a Yankees 8th-rounder in 1973 but came to the Jays in the 1976 expansion draft, and is one of many Iorgs to have played pro ball.
  • Oliver was a Cleveland 3rd-rounder in 1973 and played in only seven Major League games.
  • Perlozzo signed with the Twins as a free agent in 1972 and went on to manage the Orioles from 2005-2007, compiling a 122-164 record.  

 #707:  Alan Trammell
Paul Molitor famously shares his RC with one of the greatest Tigers of all time in Alan Trammell.  Tram was Detroit's second-rounder in the same '76 draft class as Morris and went on to become just as big of a star with Detroit as one of the top shortstops of the 80s, perhaps second only to Cal Ripken Jr.  Together with 2B Lou Whitaker he was part of one of the best double-player combos in the history of the game--a rare duo who played with the same team for their entire careers.
Trammell was in his 8th season with the big club at the start of the 1984 season, and had just come off of a breakthrough 1983 in which he hit .319 with 14 HR and 30 SB as a Gold Glove SS.  His 1984 numbers were practically a mirror of the previous season's, plus he added his second All-Star appearance.
That was all well and good, but then the playoffs started and Trammell went insane.  In the three ALCS games against KC he .364 with a .500 OBP and clubbed a HR to go along with three RBI.  That was only an appetizer as the eventual World Series MVP would hit .450 with the same .500 OBP, two more HR and six RBI in defeating the Padres in five games.  A core player, especially at such a vital position, doesn't get any more valuable than that.
Tram was another of those increasingly rare lifers with one franchise, playing all 20 of his seasons with Detroit, and he would go down as a legend in the city, even after his disastrous tenure as manager for a couple of the Tigers' all-time worst teams.  His amazing career warrants serious HOF consideration, and would likely be looked upon slightly more favorably had he not been inexplicably jobbed out of the 1987 AL MVP by George Bell and his 47 HR.  Trammell dominated Bell's credentials when it came to WAR (8.0 to 4.6), hits (205-188), steals (21-5), AVG (.343 to .308) and OBP (.402 to .352), plus he played a much more valuable position.  Regardless, Tram will always be remembered as one of the greatest Tigers ever.

Other players on this card:

  • Klutts was the Yankees' fourth-rounder in 1972 and played 199 games over eight years.
  • Come on, I don't really have to say anything about Molitor, do it?  The guy was an all-time great and was deservedly enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
  • Washington signed as a free agent with the Royals in 1972 and scratched out an 11-year career.

#708:  Lance Parrish
Parrish came to the Tigers via their first pick in 1974, 11 picks after cardmate Dale Murphy, and he was the only of these four to be selected that high.  After getting into some games in 1977 and 1978, he took advantage of more playing time in 1979, hitting .276 with 19 HR.  He would become a mainstay at catcher for the rest of his Detroit tenure, which lasted through 1986.  Other than not staying with the Tigers for his entire career, his power-hitting ability at catcher compares well with former Tiger legend Bill Freehan, though baseball-reference's score pairs him up with HOFer Gary Carter.  That may have something to do with the fact that both hit 324 HR in their 19-year careers.  While Parrish earned eight All-Star Trips to Carter's 11, several of their other stats are quite similar, and that proves that there's a fine line between excellence and greatness.
Parrish was unarguably part of the core of the team that would become World Champions in 1984 as he enjoyed one of his best statistical seasons with 33 HR and 98 RBI.  Along with Trammell and Whitaker he was a key cog in Detroit being VERY strong up-the-middle and going wire-to-wire in first place.  He also enjoyed a solid playoff experience (the only of his career), hitting .262 with two HR and five RBI in eight games.
Not just an accomplished hitter, Lance would win Gold Gloves from 1983-1985, making him one of the game's best all-around catchers at the time.  He would ultimately leave for the Phillies as a free agent in 1987, then experience a bit more personal success with the Angels in the early 90s before bouncing around a few other teams and retiring after the '95 campaign.  His 10 seasons with the Tigers, though, especially the '84 title run, will be remembered well in Motown.

Other players on this card:

  • Diaz signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in 1970 and had a solid 13-year career before his untimely death in 1990.
  • Murphy was Atlanta's first-round pick in 1974 and went on to an outstanding 18-year career that included MVPs in 1982 and 1983.  He was one of the best players of the 80s and is a borderline HOF candidate.
  • Whitt, a Detroit native, was a Boston 15th-rounder in 1972 who was selected by the expansion Blue Jays in 1976.  He played for 15 seasons, almost all of them for Toronto.
So there you have it--four core '84 Tigers represented by their rookie cards, all of which can be found in 1978 Topps.  The only other core Tiger player this set didn't include was Kirk Gibson, who would be drafted by Detroit in the first round the year the set was made, and whose RC would not appear until 1981 Topps.  While the Tigers only won the one ring in 1984 and only made the playoffs one more time that decade (the amazing 1987 finish), these players were the heart and soul of one of the greatest Tiger teams ever assembled, and it's still amazing to think that not one of them has entered the Hall of Fame.  May the voters finally get it right next year.


  1. Even though I've seen all 4 of those cards before, I don't think I ever connected that those 4 players had the same rookie card year.

    Being a child of the 80's, and without looking at stats, I can't see how any of those 4 aren't in the HOF, they were all huge in the 80's.

    1. That's understandable--it's pretty rare to find a foursome like that all in one set!

      And yeah, each seems to compare well with current HOFers, with Morris and Tram being the most deserving. They may well get denied, but at least fans like us know how great they were.