25th anniversary: Tigers reach their all-time peak

25 years ago today, the Tigers posted a milestone win in franchise history. No one knew it at the time, but it was a key moment for the club.

On Aug. 6, 1988, the Tigers topped the Red Sox, 4-2. So far, so what. That doesn’t mean much.

It was their fourth straight win, and pushed Detroit 23 games over .500. Okay now we’re getting at it. You see, 23 games over .500 (66-43) would be their high water mark on the season. They’d stumble the rest of the way, dropping 31 of their last 53.

That win on Aug. 6, 2013 gave Detroit an all-time cumulative franchise record 573 games over .500: 7,052 wins versus 6,479 losses. That’s the highest it’s ever been.

They’d tie that mark twice over the next week, but never surpass it. Then they stumbled down the stretch in 1988. A disastrous 1989 campaign would come next, as they dropped 103 games. The Tigers muddled about for the next several years, before collapsing with a 109-loss season in 1996. After a few more dismal seasons, the team lost 106 in 2002 and then staged their AL-record 119 loss season in 2003. Things have improved for them since then, but they are still a long way from 573 games.

After their weekend sweep over the White Sox, the Tigers stand 269 games over .500 (8,892-8,623), not even half of their peak.

Their low point in recent times was the end of the 2005 season. They stood at 8,221-8050, 171 games over .500. Thus from 1988 to 2005, they were 400 games under .500 (1,169-1,571), which is a .427 winning percentage. That’s like a team going 69-93 per season, which is an impressively bad stretch for a 17-year period.

The Tigers have been over .500 ever since early 1908. That makes sense. They were typically a very good team. They weren’t the Yankees, but then again the Tigers were the only team to never finish in last the entire first half of the 20th century.

That 1988 lineup still had a lot of the leaders of the 1984 world champions. Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell worked the middle infield, of course, and Chet Lemon was still in centerfield. And of course the manager was Sparky Anderson.

Given that it’s the day the franchise record peaked, the pitcher is an appropriate man – Doyle Alexander. The Tigers got him in the 1987 pennant stretch in an all-time great win now versus win later trade. Alexander was a fantastic pitcher for the Tigers down the stretch, but to get him Detroit had to give up a young arm with a big upside: John Smoltz. So yeah, it makes sense that Alexander is the man on the mound for a win just as the sun starts to set on the Tigers for a generation. And that moment happened exactly 25 years ago today.


1,000 days since longtime voice of the Seattle Mariners, Dave Niehus, dies of a heart attack.

2,000 days since the Mets sign free agent pitcher Livan Hernandez.

4,000 days since Roberto Alomar swats his 200th home run.

4,000 days since Manny Ramirez gets on base for the 15th straight time, and then makes an out to end his streak.

6,000 days since former Cubs infielder Billy Jurges dies.

7,000 days since Rickey Henderson steals his 1,100th base.

8,000 days since Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combine to throw a no-hitter.

10,000 days since the Yankees announce that recent pitching acquisition Britt Burns won’t play due to a deteriorating hip condition. He’s done in the major leagues.


1880 Hall of Fame 300-game winner Tim Keefe makes his big league debut.

1884 Left fielder Sherry Magee is born.

1884 Cap Anson hits three home runs in a game.

1886 The Detroit Wolverines (a major league team in the NL back then) purchase star second baseman Fred Dunlap from St. Louis for $4,700.

1890 Long John Reilly hits for his third career cycle. He’s the first person to do it three times.

1890 The Cleveland Spiders use a young pitcher making his big league debut: Cy Young.

1891 Jack Stivetts, a pitcher, hits two home runs in one game.

1892 Jack Stivetts throws a no-hitter in an 11-0 Boston win over Brooklyn.

1892 The Pirates’ all-time franchise record bottoms out at 206 games under .500 (491-697).

1902 Against rookie Indians pitcher Otto Hess, the Washington Senators lay down 14 bunts, three of which he misplays, and four others go for errors. The other half goes for sacrifice hits. Cleveland wins anyway, 7-6 in 10 innings.

1903 In Philadelphia, part of the Baker Bowl collapses, killing 12 and injuring over 100.

1906 The Red Sox are shut out for the fourth straight time, losing 4-0 to Cleveland.

1908 Johnny Lush throws a shortened game no-hitter, six innings in all.

1912 Inspired by Ty Cobb’s suspension earlier this year, 288 players found the Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America, an early attempt at a player’s union.

1914 Rabbit Maranville hits a walk-off home run against Babe Adams for a 5-4 Boston victory over the Pirates. It’s Maranville’s fifth career home run and the first one to clear the fence.

1917 300-game winner Gettysburg Eddie Plank plays in his final game.

1918 Hal Chase tries to convince pitcher Pol Perritt to throw a game.

1922 Walter Johnson surrenders the first grand slam of his career. Jack Tobin hits it. Johnson will allow one more two years later, but that’s it.

1925 Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt has his only known stolen base attempt, and he’s caught stealing. He also goes 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in possibly his best day ever at the plate.

1926 Clem Labine, pitcher, is born.

1928 Carl Hubbell allows the only walk-off home he’ll ever allows, and it’s just the third home run he’s allowed. Del Bissonette hits it

1929 Babe Ruth ties a personal best with seven RBIs in a game. It’s the third of four times he does that. He homers twice in today’s game, as he does in all of his seven RBI games. One of his homers is a grand slam. He’ll hit another one the next day.

1930 In the Texas League, Gene Rye of Waco gets three home runs in one inning. His team scores 18 runs in that frame, and he drives in seven of those runs.

1933 200-game winner Paul Derringer has his best career game. The Reds pitcher throws a 12-inning, three-hit shutout for a Game Score of 99 in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals. There is some personal vengeance on the day for Derringer, who’d been traded by St. Louis to Cincinnati earlier this year.

This will be a rare moment of glory for Derringer, who will go 7-27 this year. That record comes despite Derringer pitching adequately; he just has historically bad run support, including a stretch during which the Reds will be shut out in four consecutive Derringer starts.

1933 Pinky Higgins hits for the cycle.

1935 Normally a star on the mound, today Dizzy Dean is a star at the plate as he hits a walk-off homer in the 10th inning for a 6-3 Cardinals win over the Reds

1937 The Boston Braves begin the game with back-to-back leadoff homers by Roy Johnson and Rabbit Warstler. It’s the first game to begin like that.

1938 Detroit fires manager Mickey Cochrane and replaces him with Del Baker.

1939 Ted Lyons loses his 200th decision, giving him a record of 217-200.

1939 Jimmie Foxx takes the mound for Boston and fans one batter in a scoreless inning against Detroit.

1942 The Sporting News calls on baseball to continue segregation, blaming outside agitators looking for their own profit looking for changes.

1945 Andy Messersmith, the first free agent, is born.

1946 Hall of Fame second baseman Tony Lazzeri dies.

1947 Aging Indians pitcher Mel Harder has the worst start of his career: 1.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, and 0 K for a Game Score of 7. Opposing pitcher Fred Hutchinson homers off him. Harder will pitch just four more times before retiring.

1949 Frankie Frisch manages his 2,000th game. His record is 1,036-947.

1949 Johnny Mize lays down a sacrifice bunt, the only one he ever has after May 1942.

1949 For the first and only time in his career, Phil Rizzuto gets two home runs in one game.

1950 A year after his only two-home run game, Phil Rizzuto joins the 1,000 hit club in style, going 4-for-4 for the first time in his career with two doubles and a triple.

1952 Satchel Paige tops Virgil Trucks, 1-0 in 12 innings, and after the game says, “Man, I’m 100 years old, and I can still strike out these guys.” It’s a complete game for the ageless wonder.

1953 Harry Hanebrink hits a walk-off, bases-loaded triple that scores all of Milwaukee’s runs in a 3-2 Braves win. There have been only six three-run walk-off triples since then.

1953 Ted Williams returns to baseball after serving in the Korean War. He pinch hits today and pops up.

1954 White Sox ace pitcher Billy Pierce balks for the first time in five years.

1956 Baseball pitcher Ralph Terry makes his big league debut. He’ll be on the mound for the last pitch of two World Series Game Sevens. He surrenders Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer in 1960 to the Pirates, and he gets Willie McCovey to line out to clinch a 1-0 Yankees win in 1962 over the Giants.

1957 Bob Horner, slugging third baseman, is born.

1959 The Orioles and White Sox have an epic, 18-inning marathon that ends up a 1-1 tie. Billy Pierce tosses 16 innings for Chicago, allowing 11 hits and three walks while fanning seven. Hoyt Wilhelm pitches 10 innings in relief for Baltimore, allowing just two hits and three walks while fanning seven. Pierce’s Game Score is 100. Wilhelm’s WPA is the second-best known WPA for a reliever: 1.319.

1959 Billy Williams makes his big league debut.

1960 Robin Roberts allows 13 hits in one game, all of which are singles. Only one run scores as a result.

1962 Johnny Klippstein, a pitcher, homers in a 1-0 win.

1962 Willie Mays goes 5-for-5 with two homers. He has just one other five-hit game in his career.

1962 Detroit’s Steve Boros homers three times in one game.

1965 Houston signs free agent Robin Roberts.

1966 The Mets purchase Ralph Terry from the Kansas City A’s.

1967 Dean Chance throws a shortened game no-hitter, five innings for Minnesota over Boston.

1967 The Phillies sign free agent Andre Thornton.

1970 In the first inning against Tom Seaver, Lou Brock steals home for the Cardinals. It’s a double steal with Joe Hague taking second base on the play.

1974 Johnny Bench hits his 200th career home run.

1974 Hank Aaron enjoys his 62nd and final career multi-home run game.

1974 The Royals sign free agent veteran Orlando Cepeda.

1974 Norm Cash appears in his final contest.

1975 The Mets fire manager Yogi Berra, who led them to a pennant in 1973.

1975 Victor Zambrano is born.

1978 Scott Sanderson makes his big league debut.

1979 On the day of the memorial service for Thurman Munson, the Yankees rally from a 4-0 deficit to the Orioles for a 5-4 win in the ninth.

1981 National League owners agree to a $20.5 million sale of the Cubs to the Tribune Company.

1981 A split season format for the postseason is approved for the 1981 strike season.

1982 Dave LaRoche fans Lamar Johnson on his “LaLob” pitch. He got Gorman Thomas with it last year.

1982 Star outfielder Reggie Smith has his 24th and final multi-home run game.

1983 Chuck Tanner manages his 2,000th game. His record is 1,039-956.

1983 Buddy Bell hits his only inside-the-park home run.

1983 The White Sox top the Orioles, 6-4, pushing manager Tony LaRussa’s career record over .500 (295-294). It’ll be over .500 for the rest of his dugout days.

1983 Mets pitcher Walt Terrell hits two homers off Fergie Jenkins in a 4-1 win over the Cubs.

1984 Keith Hernandez hits his 100th home run.

1984 Wade Boggs gets 11 total bases, his personal best. He’s 4-for-5 with a double and two home runs.

1985 The Players Association begins another strike, but this one will be over in a few days.

1986 For the first time in history, three grand slams are hit in one game. Texas beats Baltimore, 13-11. Toby Harrah, Larry Sheets and Jim Dwyer get the grannies.

1986 Bobby Thigpen, at one point the single-season save record holder, makes his big league debut.

1988 Pirates pitcher Jim Gott balks three times in the eighth inning.

1989 It’s the last time any team has a reliever last eight innings in an outing. Scott Sanderson does it for the Cubs, and gets stuck with the loss in a 5-4 game against the Pirates that lasts 18 innings.

1989 Boston retires Carl Yastrzemski’s number (8).

1991 The Angels retire Rod Carew’s number (29).

1991 One-time Braves workhorse Rick Mahler plays in his final game.

1992 For the first time in his career, Nolan Ryan is ejected. He gets in a shouting match with Oakland’s Willie Wilson with two outs in the ninth during a 2-0 A’s victory.

1993 It takes just 1,560 games for Tony Gwynn to get career hit No. 2,000.

1993 Former pitcher Tex Hughson dies.

1996 After a 20-day, 17-game road trip caused by the Olympics, the Braves return to Turner Field in Atlanta.

1996 For the second time in his career, Darryl Strawberry hits three home runs in one game.

1996 Marcel Lachemann quits as Angels manager. John McNamara will take over.

1998 The Pirates strike a deal with PNC Bank that ensures the new Pirates ballpark will be named PNC Park.

1998 Long-time WGN announcer Jack Brickhouse dies at age 82. He worked from the 1940s until 1981.

1998 Toronto trades Randy Myers to the Padres.

1999 Exactly six years after getting his 2,000th hit, Tony Gwynn joins the 3,000-hit club. He does it in style, going 4-for-5. It takes him just 2,284 games to do it.

1999 For the second time in his career, Carlos Delgado hits three home runs in one game.

2001 In a Vanity Fair interview, former Pete Rose friend Tommy Gioiosa alleges that Rose bet on baseball, used a corked bat, and did drug deals.

2002 Robb Nen records his 300th save.

2002 Travis Hafner makes his big league debut.

2003 Kevin Appier returns to Kansas City as the Royals sign the free-agent pitcher.

2003 The Yankees trade reliever Armando Benitez to Seattle for Jeff Nelson. (Yes, Yankees fans, apparently he played for them for all of nine games in 2003.)

2004 Colorado trades star outfielder Larry Walker to the Cardinals.

2004 San Diego releases former star third baseman Jeff Cirillo.

2004 The Angels sign free agent Andres Galarraga.

2008 Colorado claims Livan Hernandez off waivers from the Twins.

2008 Albert Pujols belts his sixth career grand slam.

2008 In just his second career start, Pittsburgh’s Jeff Karstens retires the first 23 batters he faces.

2010 The Braves retire No. 11 for Tom Glavine and then lose to the Giants, 3-2 in 11 innings. The Giants score the tying run in the ninth despite not getting a hit and then get the winning run in a hitless 11th inning. The ninth features a walk, a sacrifice fly, and two errors. The 11th features two unintentional walks, an intentional walk, and a sacrifice fly.

2012 The Astros pull off the worst defensive play in memory. With a runner on base, the batter tries to bunt him over—and that’s when the fun begins. The first baseman and pitcher collide when they both go for the ball, and the third baseman nearly runs into both of them. (He has to jump out of the way). When someone finally gets the ball, it’s thrown into right field. The runner scores and the right fielder throws the ball away trying to get him at the plate.

2012 A “fan” is arrested in Busch Stadium. He directed his laser pointer at the eyes of the Giants pitcher and then the Cardinals manager. He’s caught as he’s throwing the laser pointer in the trash.

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Dennis Bedard
8 years ago

Question:  when was the first time the phrase “walk off” was used?  I grew up following baseball closely in the 60’s and 70’s.  Back then it was called a game winning hit or home run.  Because that is exactly what it was.  In the past 5 years I keep hearing “walk off.”  Very quaint.  But where did that verbal contraption come from?  Any answers?

Chris Jaffe
8 years ago

Dennis – I first heard it about 10 years ago.  ESPN used it.  I liked it and have used it since. I guess others have to.  It’s a play that lets you walk off the field victoriously, so walk-off win describes it pretty well.

Dennis Bedard
8 years ago

Fair enough.  But I am a traditionalist.  You can talk about world wars, political philosophy, economic catastrophe, and even bad movies, but I define the beginning of the end of Western Civilization as we know it when the (G——D—-) Astros introduced AstroTurf. Another point:  the only team that “walks off” is the losing team! The “victorious” team is in the dugout and they run, not walk, to celebrate at home plate.  A nice sound bite but I dissent.