Sparky Anderson has nothing so mundane as a single season on his mind. He wants to win the whole decade.
"We're only 13 games behind the Orioles for the first five years of the '80s," says Anderson. "If we can catch them in the next five, I will have led the '70s with the Reds and the '80s with this team. After that comes the '90s."
The '90s? "My infield in the '90s might be Lou Whitaker at third, Alan Trammell at first, Chris Pittaro at second and probably Pedro Chavez at short. I think Lance Parrish is strong enough to catch into the next decade if I use him right, and we have this little thing in the American League called the designated hitter."
Is this the same Sparky Anderson who said during the '84 Series that he might not manage much longer? "Well, I talked with my wife, and we decided that as long as I stopped going to speaking engagements and we took a vacation in January, I'd continue to manage. Next year we'll go to Maui, then Greece and Rome, Australia and New Zealand, Jerusalem...."
Traveling through time is nice, but Sparky needs to be beamed down once in a while. "This is the best team I've ever left Florida with. There's no comparison between this year's team and last year's. The pitching is far superior. The bench strength is super. And you know what? We might not win. Our last 26 games are all against Toronto, New York, Baltimore and Boston."
The Tigers have almost everyone back from the team that started '84 35-5, finished 104-58 and went 7-1 in the postseason. Howard Johnson went to the Mets for pitcher Walt Terrell, but Anderson has seen fit to replace him at third base with the rookie Pittaro, who is replacing Whitaker, who returns to second to replace Pittaro, who was replacing Whitaker in the first place.
"As the Infield Turns," in the words of Parrish, began when Anderson fell in love with Pittaro, a second baseman who hit .284 at Class AA Birmingham last year. The manager decided that because Whitaker would eventually be his third baseman, it was the ideal time to switch, a move, he said, that was "etched in stone." But when Whitaker had second thoughts about playing third, the experiment ended after five days. "From now on, all my moves will be etched in Jell-O," says Anderson.
The other change on the Tigers is centered on rookie Nelson Simmons, a switch-hitter who will DH and spell Larry Herndon in left. Chet Lemon is in center, and Kirk Gibson, the rightfielder, will hit 30 homers, steal 30 bases and scare pitchers and other strangers.
Terrell, always described as a "bulldog," improves an already excellent staff, which begins with Jack Morris and ends, usually, with Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player Willie Hernandez. Gone from the staff, though, is pitching coach Roger Craig, replaced by Billy Muffett. Craig was thought to be indispensable. "Don't make too big a thing out of it," says starter Dan Petry. "We're all mature pitchers, and if any of us fails, changing pitching coaches is an awfully weak excuse. Besides, I learned to pitch in the minors under Billy Muffett."
The Tigers' biggest concerns are the shoulders of Trammell and Parrish. Trammell has not thrown with much authority in spring training, and Parrish was being very careful with his tremendous gun of an arm. If their arms don't come around, Anderson may have to move Trammell to first and Parrish to DH a little before the next decade.
But, according to Sparky, "This, too, shall pass." The Tigers will be a formidable team for years to come, just like the Cincinnati Reds of the '70s. "In my mind I play my Tigers against my Reds all the time," says Anderson. "You know what? The Tigers win, and it doesn't even go seven games. Pitching dominates.
"Actually, it's the Red Sox and the Blue Jays that scare me."
DAVE BERGMAN (L)
DARRELL EVANS (L)
BARBARO GARBEY (R)
LOU WHITAKER (L)
ALAN TRAMMELL (R)
CHRIS PITTARO (L/R)
LARRY HERNDON (R)
CHET LEMON (R)
KIRK GIBSON (L)
LANCE PARRISH (R)
JOHN GRUBB (L)
NELSON SIMMONS (L/R)