A 1,758 mile flight, a dramatic home run to win the final game, a great father-son moment, and a last evening out with my Grandpa–it all happened in 1984 as the Detroit Tigers won the World Series that year.
Dad was a baseball fan. He had grown up loyally supporting the Chicago Cubs and kept cheering for them, even after leaving Kenosha, Wis. for El Paso, Texas. But they had only made the World Series once since he was alive, and that was in 1945, when he wasn’t even a year old, losing to the Detroit Tigers. Most years it wasn’t even close.
For my Grandpa, a Detroit resident, it was a similar tale. Since 1945, the team had only made the World Series once, a thrilling win over the St. Louis Cardinals back in 1968.
But 1984 was a magical year for the Chicago Cubs, who won the National League East. It was also a good year for the Detroit Tigers, starting the year by winning 35 of their first 40 games, blowing out the Kansas City Royals to make it to the Fall Classic.
As the Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the National League playoffs over the San Diego Padres, Dad made a call that night to my Grandpa, who worked for a bank up in Michigan. As he got off the phone, he turned to me to tell me the good news. At age 14, I would go to my first (and only) World Series. We would fly from West Texas to Detroit.
Of course, things don’t always turn out the way you think, if you make plans early. We got the tickets that night, but the Cubs collapsed, losing the next three games and the pennant to the Padres.
Still, we made it to the Detroit-San Diego series. We learned a few things in the process. First, World Series baseball is pretty cold up North in October and November. I swear I saw snow flurries. Pack for the cold weather, especially as games are being played at night nowadays.
Second, don’t bring a poster or sign. It just gets in the way of the fans. We tried to make something noting our long trip to the game, but we didn’t have it up for long.
Third, be ready for a wild celebration at the end, especially if it has been awhile since the home team has won.
Behind the great pitching of Jack Morris (who won his second complete game), the smart play of second baseman Lou Whitaker and two homers by shortstop Alan Trammell, the Tigers took Game 4 by a score of 4-2. Grandpa, his wife, and Dad enjoyed themselves so much they bought tickets for Game 5. Detroit had a 3-1 lead at that point in games; one more win would clinch it.
The mood in Tiger Stadium was electric. Detroit jumped out to an early lead in Game 5. But the Padres closed the gap. With two baserunners in the 8th inning, Kirk Gibson faced San Diego Padres fireball reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage. Gossage hurled a fastball, which Gibson blasted well-over the fence in right field, not far from our seats. There was pandemonium as the Tigers won the World Series.
After the game, there was a near riot, as Detroit residents poured into the stadium in droves and tore the place apart. I got hit with a piece of turf. Outside, there were buses and police cars being overturned. It got a little scary as our car was blocked in, but we managed to make it out and soak up the joy. It was a great moment, but a little on the bittersweet side. Grandpa passed away not long thereafter. He was an early political mentor to me, and I still miss him. But at least he lived to see his Tigers win it all once again.
Detroit hasn’t won a World Series since, but they’ve made two recently, in 2006 and last season. Last night, I watched the Tigers defeat the Oakland A’s in an ALDS game on television with my six-year-old son, who announced that Detroit is his second favorite team, behind the Atlanta Braves. Maybe one day, I’ll take him to a series just as my Dad took me back when I was 14.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. The photo is of Kirk Gibson, who hit a dramatic home run in the 1984 World Series, and again in 1988. He’s now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.