May 22 • 05:54 PM

I have been to sports heaven

August 09, 2017
Do you remember 1984? Most people connect 1984 with the book of the same title by George Orwell. Wikipedia says about the book: "As literary political fiction and dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen-Eighty-Four is a classic novel in content, plot and style. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Room 101, Big Brother, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and memory hole, have entered into common use since its publication in 1949. "Nineteen-Eighty-Four popularized the adjective Orwellian, which describes official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state."

Frankly, I never read the book though sometimes when I turn on the nightly news I'm not sure if they are talking about now or about the book.

But I remember 1984 for a whole different reason. When you're a sports fan, once in a great while the stars and planets line up just exactly right for those teams you root for. The time between Friday, October 5 and Sunday, October 14 was such a time for me.

You may recall from reading previous columns that I am a big Detroit Tigers fan and a big Michigan State Spartans fan. I'm sure many of you are, too. Yes, I know many of you like the other school in Ann Arbor. Perfectly fine. I do too except when they go up against my Spartans.

In 1984 the Tigers had one of the finest baseball teams ever assembled on the diamond and a manager who was a World Series champion, George "Sparky" Anderson. Sparky knew how to get the best out of the talent he had and in '84 he had a lot of it.

For example, he had Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox and Doug Bair as starters and the incredible Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez in the bullpen. Tom Brookens at third and Darrell Evans at first and up the middle, one of the best double-play combinations ever, Alan Trammel at shortstop and Lou Whittaker at second with Lance Parrish catching.

Outfielders usually were Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson. The team also had a very strong bench.

They started the season winning 35 of the first 40 games and never looked back. They were in first place start to finish.

For the upcoming American League Championship Series (ALCS, best 3 of 5 then) that began on October 2, fans couldn't just buy a ticket. There was a lottery for tickets. Fans put their names and addresses on post cards and sent them in. The same system was used for the World Series tickets if the team made it that far. If they drew your name, you could buy tickets, limit four, I think.

My luck started when I got four tickets to the ALCS. I had Game 3. Friday, Oct. 5, my friends Dean Wakefield, Charlie Kahl and Bob Marshall were in the lower deck in left field as Milt Wilcox pitched a beautiful game 1-0 and the Tigers won the American League Pennant 3 games to 0.

The next day, Saturday, Oct. 6, Dean and I, both MSU grads, headed to Ann Arbor to see our Spartans take on the arch rival Wolverines. We were 2 of 105,612 fans in attendance. The Spartans were 1-3 while Michigan was 3-1 so, frankly, we didn't expect much. But both bands were there, it was a nice day and, well, who knows?

Spartan coach George Perles had the Green and White ready to play. Records never matter in this game.

Michigan State scored first and again in the first quarter while the Maize and Blue scored 7 points. Incredibly, the Spartans led 13-7 at the half. After a spectacular halftime show by both bands, MSU added two field goals in the second half while holding the much favored Wolverines scoreless.

To the shock of everybody (except Dean and me, of course) the Paul Bunyan Trophy, given to the winner each year, rode back to East Lansing for the year.

Eight days later, on Monday, Oct. 14, the odyssey continued. I had received three tickets to Game 5 of the World Series in the lottery. The first 2 games had been played in San Diego with the teams splitting the two. The next 3 games would be at Tiger Stadium. Fortunately, for us, anyway, the Tigers had lost one game in San Diego guaranteeing a Game 5. So Dean, Charlie and I went to Game 5.

We had Box Seats though they were in the second row in deep left field only a few seats from the bleachers. But they were INSIDE the ballpark! I fortified myself with a couple of Ballpark Franks and settled in for baseball.

What a game! The Tigers scored three runs in the first inning. The Padres rallied to tie the score in the fourth, but the Tigers pulled ahead again with single runs in the fifth and seventh innings. After the Padres closed it to a one-run game in the eighth with a rare run off closer, Willie Hernandez, Kirk Gibson (MSU grad) came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth for the Tigers with runners on second and third and one out.

Gibson had homered earlier in the game, and Padres manager Dick Williams strolled to the mound to talk to his pitcher, Goose Gossage, seemingly with the purpose of ordering him to walk Gibson intentionally. Gossage talked Williams into letting him pitch to Gibson, and Gibson responded with a three-run blast into the upper deck in right field to clinch the Series for the Tigers.

WE WON! I was lucky enough to have the right tickets for the right games and saw the Tigers win the A.L. Pennant, the Spartans beat Michigan—in Ann Arbor - and saw the Tigers win the World Series all within nine days.

It was more than 30 years ago but we still talk about it yet today. I remember nearly every detail. It will never happen again for me but, my friends, I have, indeed, been to sports heaven.

Email Rick at

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