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Team 89: The 1963 Tigers

Blake VandeBunteContributor INovember 19, 2009
  • Year: 1963
  • Record: 79-83
  • Win %: .488
  • Win % Change: -40
  • Run Differential: -3
  • Pythagorean Record: 81-81
  • AL Finish: 5th of 10
  • Manager: Bob Scheffing and Chuck Dressen
  • Best Transaction: Picked up Denny McLain off of waivers.  McLain’s story is well know in Tigers lore.  He reached a very high peak in the late 1960s and then fell apart on and off of the field.  No matter what kind of trouble he got into later in his career, you can’t beat the price the Tigers paid to get him.  McLain had five productive seasons in Detroit, winning an MVP award and two Cy Young Awards before fading away and going to jail.  He made three starts in 1963 at the age of only 19.
  • Worst Transaction: Selling Mike Cuellar to the Cleveland Indians.  Cuellar would go on to have a great career, but the beginning of it was pretty strange.  He was the property of the Reds, the Tigers, Indians, the Cardinals and the Astros before finding a home with the Orioles.  Once he got to Baltimore he won a Cy Young Award, made four All-Star teams, and topped the 20-win mark four times.  So while it stings that the Tigers gave him away for a song, at least there were plenty of others that gave up on him as well.
  • Upper: This team featured three budding young stars in Al Kaline (28), Norm Cash (28) and Mickey Lolich (22).  While Kaline and Cash were in their late 20s, they each had several great seasons ahead of them and contributed greatly to the 1968 club.  Kaline was the team’s offensive leader in 1963, winning the team Triple Crown as he led the club in batting average, home runs and RBI.  Cash finished second on the club in most of those categories and both players boasted OPS+ numbers above 135.  Lolich didn’t blow anyone away with his great numbers, but he was a good young contributor on a team that had a pretty bad pitching staff.
  • Downer: This team is so high (or low) on this list because they were so good so recently.  In 1961, the Tigers had one of the greatest clubs in history to not make the postseason.  That year the Tigers went 101-61 but fell short of the AL Pennant, behind the New York Yankees.  So, the Tigers went from 101 wins to 79 wins in only two years.  The offense was decent but the pitching staff was bad. They finished 7th in the AL in ERA (out of 10 teams), 8th in hits allowed, and no pitching staff in the league gave up more home runs. The starting rotation was full of guys who were roughly league average like Phil Regan and Jim Bunning (he would turn it around later), and the bullpen was a total mess.
  • Summary:  Part of what plagued this talented team was their slow start.  Through the month of June, the Tigers were only 29-45.  However, once the calendar turned to July, the Tigers went 50-38 the rest of the way.  This team had talent, they just really struggled out of the gate and were never able to get back into the race.  Luckily, this would be the low point of the 1960s.  The Tigers would recover in the coming seasons, gaining speed before winning it all in 1968.  It was also around this time that young players like McLain and Lolich began to make a name for themselves in Detroit with the Tigers.  A 20-year old Willie Horton also made his debut in Detroit, slugging the first of over 300 career home runs.
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