Emcee Mario Impemba, far right, asks questions of members of the Detroit Tigers' 1968 World Series
champs, from left, Gates Brown, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich and Jon Warden. photo by John McTaggart.
June 27, 2013Dozens of baseball fans packed the Grosse Pointe War Memorial last week to enjoy a couple of hours of stories supplied from members of the 1968 and 1984 World Series winning Detroit Tigers squads.
Drinks and dinner preceeded the main event as Gates Brown, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich and Jon Warden of the '68 Tigers joined Dave Bergman, Dave Rozema, Dan Petry and Tom Brookens of the '84 squad to share stories of what made their respective seasons memorable. Current Tiger manager Jim Leyland and his bench coach, Gene Lamont, were also on hand before leaving for another event.
Detroit Tigers' broadcaster Mario Impemba was the emcee.
"We came to (spring training) camp ready to go," Kaline said. "We felt we were the best team in 67 and we were determined to win it all in 68. You could see it on everyone's face in spring training."
The 1967 Tigers finished one game behind the Boston Red Sox for the American League pennant. They finished 91-71 and split back-to-back doubleheaders with the California Angels on the final two days of the regular season.
Rain outs Thursday and Friday forced the two doubleheaders and as fans know, most teams split doubleheaders.
In 1968, Manager Mayo Smith and the Tigers won the AL with a 103-59 record and went on to play the defending World Series champs St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
They fell behind the Cards 3-1, but rallied to force a game seven.
"We had the confidence in spring training to win it all and we did against a good Cardinals team," Lolich said.
After losing 1-0 on opening day to Boston, the Tigers won the next nine games and never looked back.
Lolich had already won two of Detroit's three victories in the World Series and Smith came to him and asked if he could pitch in game seven in St. Louis.
"Mayo Smith came to me and asked if I could pitch and I said I could," Lolich said. "I thought it would be in relief, but he asked me if I could start. I told him I could and I could go five innings."
The game was scoreless after five innings and Smith asked Lolich to go one more inning. He did and Smith asked him to go one more.
The Tigers scored three runs in the top of the seventh and added another in the ninth to lead 4-0.
Lolich gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth to earn the win.
He pitched a complete game, giving up only five hits, one earned run, three walks and struck out four.
In the 68 season, Kaline hit .287 and Brown hit an amazing .370 and was one of Major League Baseball's most prolific pinch hitters.
"I didn't think about it because it just happened," Brown said. "The guy that produces likes to be up there. You can't be too serious because you will go crazy. You have to have fun."
Lolich finished with a 17-9 record and a 3.19 ERA. He had four shutouts, one save, and pitched 222 innings. He gave up 178 hits and struck out 197.
Warden pitched out of the bullpen, finishing 4-1 with a 3.62 ERA. He had three saves and pitched 37 1/3 innings, striking out 25.
"I was one of the last guys to make the team in spring training and I was happy to get that shot," Warden said. "I made the most out of my chance to play in the big leagues."
The '84 Tigers came to spring training hungry and ready to prove a point. The '83 squad was second in the American League East at 92-70, six games behind the Baltimore Orioles.
"You have to have it and we knew out of spring training we had a very good team," Bergman said. "Willie Hernandez and I were the final couple of pieces to the puzzle."
"It takes 25 men to win," Brookens said. "We all pitched in to win. We had the front line guys and the others who chipped in. We were strong up the middle and it all paid off."
The Tigers got off to an amazing 35-5 start and never looked back. They finally pulled away from the Toronto Blue Jays to win the AL East and swept the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series to make it to the World Series.
Detroit trounced the San Diego Padres, splitting the first two games in San Diego before winning games three, four and five in Detroit to capture the world crown.
"We had fun," Rozema said. "I was the guy who kept everyone loose. We couldn't be too serious."
"We came to camp with high hopes after a great 83 season," Petry said. "We were good, but we had to get some breaks along the way, which we did."
These teammates are still tight, like brothers, and the joking never ended. Laughter, pats on the back and a true admiration of their teammates emanated throughout the room as fans got to see these heroes up close and personal.
After the stories, an auction took place with jerseys of Leyland, Lamont, Kaline, Brookens, Bergman, Lolich, Petry, Brown, Rozema and Warden, plus a box of 10 autographed baseball.
In addition, two authentic stadium chairs from Tiger/Briggs Stadium added to the total of $12,375 raised for the Joe Niekro Foundation, which goes for research of aneurysms, which ended his life.
Helping bring the event together was Bergman and one of his colleagues, Suzanne Antonelli.
Stepping up to sponsor the evening were Michigan Head and Spine Institute, Grosse Pointe Redbirds baseball organization and Windsor Regional Hospital. In addition, Motor City Casino chipped in by providing lodging to those players and foundation members coming in from out-of-town.
Niekro's daughter, Natalie Niekro, began the foundation in 2007 after her father diedat age 61 of a cerebral brain aneurysm Oct. 27, 2006.