Sparky Anderson completed his tax forms, put them in an envelope, licked the flap and talked about moving the Tigers into a higher bracket. "This is the best club since I've been manager," said Anderson, who came in 1979. "We're right there with the Yankees, Orioles and Brewers. They're no better than us. It all depends on who gets the pitching."
Anderson is the eternal optimist, but this spring his glasses are a little rosier than usual. Itemizing, he says he has the next Mickey Mantle, a predominantly righthand-hitting lineup, three new starters and one of the best double-play combinations in the league.
The Tigers' biggest asset is Centerfielder Kirk Gibson, the new Mantle. "I guess it's a compliment, but if you've seen any real comparisons, tell me," says Gibson. "It's all hype, bull. I'm not gonna be the next Mantle. If I'm anybody, I'll be Kirk Gibson." That's just Kirk's little way of saying I haven't done anything yet—even though he has. Last year Gibson hit .328, .375 in the second half, with nine homers and 17 stolen bases.
Flanking Gibson in the outfield are new arrivals Larry Herndon, formerly of the Giants, and Chet Lemon, who came from the White Sox in exchange for Steve Kemp. Both are fine outfielders, and both are righthanded, so the Tigers are no longer vulnerable to lefthanded pitching. Last year they faced more southpaw starters than righthanders, which is strange because there aren't all that many to go around. "All the good teams are basically righthand-hitting," says Anderson. "We still have a couple of lefties, but if we had more, teams could block us off."
The other new righthand hitter is former Giant Enos Cabell, who will platoon at first with Rick Leach and at third with Tom Brookens. Only three years ago, at Houston, Cabell was one of the better players in the National League, speedy, adept in the field and a .280 hitter. He proceeded to go downhill—fast. "If used right, he could be the Enos Cabell of old," says Anderson. Says Cabell, "I've got a lot to prove. I know what a certain ex-manager said about me." The ex-manager was San Francisco's Frank Robinson, who said, "Sometimes when a guy starts making errors he presses, and Enos didn't hit well enough to compensate for it."
Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker are Detroit's DP duo, probably for the next 10 years or so. Brookens is an average fielder with a timely bat. Catcher Lance Parrish, Tina Turner's former bodyguard, added muscles to muscles over the winter, and Anderson told him to hulk down. Unless Parrish can improve on his .244 average, Anderson won't be impressed with the fact that Parrish can bench-press 425 pounds.
Anderson is right about the pitching. If he gets enough of it, Detroit could win the division. Unfortunately, starters Jack Morris, Milt Wilcox and Dan Petry may not be enough. Kevin (Hot Sauce) Saucier better be the real thing in the bullpen.
In the 88 games in which Lance Parrish was Detroit's starting catcher last year, the Tigers won 42 and lost 46. In the 21 games he didn't start, they won 18 and lost only three. Bill Fahey was 16-3 as a starter and John Wockenfuss was 2-0. The Tigers' average of runs allowed decreased from nearly four per game with Parrish starting to 2.7 per game without him.