The Tigers experienced an extremely successful decade in the 1980s. The team competed for the postseason in most years through 1988. The Tigers collapsed in 1989 and did not recover until 2006. During the early 1990s, the team attempted to fill holes through free agency and created an interesting squad. In 1992, Mike Illitch bought the team after his predecessor gutting the team financially. The Tigers collapsed again and the team hired Randy Smith. Smith made a series of boneheaded personnel moves, which devastated the Tigers for the next decade.
Fielder hits 51 (10-3-90):
Cecil Fielder played part-time with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1985-1988. The Jays did not have room for him and released Fielder. No other team wanted him. So, he played in Japan in 1989 before returning to the U.S. to sign with the Tigers. In 1990, Cecil Fielder became a feared power hitter as he slugged 51 home runs. At the time, 50 home runs mattered. The last player to top 50 was George Foster in 1977. Fielder finished second in the MVP voting in both 1990 and 1991. He probably should have won in 1990.
Gullickson wins 20 (October 3, 1991):
Bill Gullickson became the first Tiger pitcher to win 20 games since 1986 when he defeated the Red Sox 10-5. Detroit scored six in the eighth to take control of the game. Rob Deer and Cecil Fielder homered for Detroit. Gullickson led the league in wins in 1991 and finished eighth in the Cy Young voting. The Tigers did not have another 20-game winner until 2011.
Cecil Fielder leads the league in RBI three straight seasons (1990-1992):
In 1992, the Tigers first baseman became the first player since Babe Ruth to lead the league in RBI three straight years. Fielder’s run occurred without the benefit of steroids. The steroid era has since overshadowed his accomplishments. In 1996, Detroit traded Fielder to the Yankees. He finished his career with 319 home runs and 1008 RBI.
Mike Illitch buys Tigers (1992):
Mike Illitch played baseball in his younger days and loved the sport. The pizza man also owned the Detroit Red Wings. During the 1990s, the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998. They’d win two more in the next decade. Meanwhile, the Tigers experienced a team record 12 consecutive losing seasons before winning the pennant in 2006. Under Illitch’s ownership, the Tigers built a new ballpark, hosted the 2005 All Star Game, and the 2006 World Series. However, they have yet to win a championship.
Last winning season until 2006 (1993):
The 1993 Detroit Tigers finished 85-77 in third place in the American League East. Travis Fryman led the team with a .300 average and Cecil Fielder provided the power with 30 home runs and 117 RBI. Mickey Tettleton hit 32 home runs and drove in 110. The pitching remained weak with a 4.65 team ERA. Mike Henneman had a good year with 24 saves and a 2.64 ERA. David Wells led the staff with a 4.19 ERA. John Doherty won 14 games.
Kirk Gibson retires (1995):
Kirk Gibson left the Tigers after the 1987 season and returned in 1993. The following season he looked like the Gibson of old with 23 home runs, 72 RBI, a .276 average, and .906 OPS in the strike shortened season. The following year, he decided to retire. He struck out in his first major league at bat and his last. Gibson went on to broadcast Tiger games from 1998-2002, served as a Tiger bench coach, and then managed the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sparky vs. Illitch (1995):
Sparky Anderson sided with the players during the 1994-1995 work stoppage and refused to manage replacement players. The owners never fielded replacements, but Mike Illitch remembered Sparky’s insurrection. Anderson never managed in the majors again. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, but Illitch refused to retire Anderson’s number until after his death.
Randy Smith takes over (1996):
Mike Illitch decided to hire John McHale and Randy Smith to run the Tigers. The Randy Smith era witnessed a succession of poor trades. The team did not experience a single winning season under Smith. The Tigers fired him in 2002. Smith’s reign rivals Matt Millen as one of the most ineffectual and disastrous in pro sports history.
Clemens k’s 20 Tigers (September 18, 1996):
The 1996 Tigers might have been worse than the 119-loss 2003 team. The pitching staff had a 6.38 ERA. The offense led the league in strikeouts with 1268. On September 18, Roger Clemens struck out 20 Detroit Tiger batters. It was the second time Clemens accomplished the feat. Travis Fryman struck out all four plate appearances and Tony Clark punched out three times. Every Tiger batter struck out at least once.
Tiger Stadium closes (September 27, 1999):
The Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals 8-2 on the strength of Robert Fick’s eighth inning grand slam. Tiger players took the field with the numbers of former greats. Fick wore Norm Cash’s #25. After the last out, 63 Tiger greats took the field led by Mark Fidrych.