Friday, March 6, 2009 Unhappy anniversary: Tigers could find trouble marking '84 championship
Tom Gage / The Detroit News
LAKELAND, Fla. -- What if the Tigers threw a party and nobody came?
And could that be the case when they observe the 25th anniversary of their 1984 World Series championship on Sept. 28 at Comerica Park?
Many of the stars on that team are Tigers who've been fired by the organization since. Alan Trammell was dismissed as manager. Kirk Gibson was fired as bench coach.
Trammell and Gibson are major league bench coaches now -- Trammell for the Chicago Cubs and Gibson for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Would they leave their posts the final week of the season, when their clubs could be involved in pennant races, to return to Detroit for a reunion?
That could be problematic.
Possibly feeling burned, Lance Parrish has been fired twice as a coach by the Tigers and reportedly was interested in being rehired as their bullpen coach this winter while there was a vacancy.
But the Tigers rehired Jeff Jones instead.
Would Parrish come back after not liking the treatment he's received?
Former manager Sparky Anderson is 75 and doesn't like to travel. Aurelio Lopez is deceased. Guillermo Hernandez had a serious health problem during the Tigers' Fantasy Camp last month. Chet Lemon has had life-threatening health problems.
Howard Johnson is a coach with the New York Mets. Rusty Kuntz is a coach with the Kansas City Royals. Would they be able to attend a function in the final week of the season?
And now this -- Lou Whitaker, serving as a spring training instructor, said on Thursday that he probably won't be attending.
"I'm not going to leave my house, fly all the way to Detroit and come back the next day," Whitaker said. "Lou don't roll like that.
"I'll tape something for them to play, something like 'thank you very much, I enjoyed it. I'm glad I was able to be a part of 1984, part of that Tigers' team that had the privilege of going all the way.' "
There's plenty of time for Whitaker to change his mind, of course. Plus if he wants to continue as a spring training instructor, he might be persuaded to change his mind, but at this point -- more than six months before the planned event -- one can envision less than a grand event.
Even when he was a player, though, it was difficult to convince Whitaker to do anything he didn't want to do. He was an excellent second baseman, but one who seldom left his feet for a ball. It never felt right for him.
But he enjoys watching infielders go about their work even now.
"I like to see who has the leather," he said.
Whitaker also was a fine natural hitter, but one who never needed much batting practice. He took it when there was something specific he wanted to work on. He never took it for show.
Even now, he disapproves of batting practice if he thinks hitters aren't taking it seriously.
"They're getting all fancy," Whitaker said while watching a visiting team during one such session this week. "That's not the way to do it."
Now 51, Whitaker thinks the game has changed a lot in the 25 years since 1984.
"The ballparks are smaller, so is the strike zone," he said. "I wasn't that big, but the ballparks were. After Gates Brown taught me, I had some power, but when I was younger, I was a singles hitter.
"As for pitches, it seems to me they have to be right there for them to be called strikes now. Nothing borderline gets called. Hitters stand right on top of the box and you can't pitch inside without some kind of confrontation.
"It's changed. It seems like a lot of guys now just take an all-out home-run swing," Whitaker said.
"Scorers call more hits, too. I've seen quite a bit of that. In my day, shoot, it had to be pretty much clean. But I never complained about a scorer's call. What was I going to do, upset myself?"
That much hasn't changed. To this day, Whitaker doesn't upset himself. If he doesn't feel like attending the 1984 reunion, he probably won't.
"It'll be a big anniversary . . . for the fans," he said. "For me as a player, I'm just disappointed we didn't win more."
Not that he would have attended them, in other words, but he wishes there were more reunions than one.
You can reach Tom Gage at tom. firstname.lastname@example.org
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