Tigers Felt Like Orioles for 19 Games in '75

Associated Press

Bill Freehan and Willie Horton know how the Baltimore Orioles feel. Tom Brookens can't imagine.

Freehan and Horton played for Detroit in 1975 when the Tigers lost 19 consecutive games, the club's worst losing streak.

Brookens is 1 of 9 Tigers remaining from the team that went 35-5 to open the 1984 season. That was the best start in baseball history. The Orioles' 0-19 is the worst.

The Tigers 19-game losing streak began with a defeat July 27 and lasted through Aug. 16. Twelve of the games were decided by one or two runs and three went extra innings.

"There were a lot of close games in there," Freehan recalled. "It was like every night we'd find a way to screw up. You get in a rut. Frustration was just rampant.

"It was the tailend of the group of guys I played with."

It was, indeed, a team in transition.

Gerald Ford was president, "Jive Talkin" by the Bee Gees was a hit tune, "Saturday Night Live" made its debut on NBC-TV and "Jaws" was packing them in at movie theaters.

Tiger players such as Freehan, Horton and Mickey Lolich, who carried the Tigers to the World Series championship in 1968 and to the American League East title in 1972, had grown old. Al Kaline had retired after the 1974 season.

Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Mark Fidrych were in the minor league system. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell weren't drafted until the following year.

"You knew we weren't a very talented team that year," Freehan said. "Horses are important."

The 19-game losing streak began after two key players, relief pitcher John Hiller and outfielder Mickey Stanley, were injured the same night, July 25, and sidelined for the season.

"We sat down and finally decided guys were trying to take on the whole load," Horton recalled. "That led to a lot of mental mistakes. The concentration breaks down."

Horton said he intended to give Baltimore Manager Frank Robinson a call last week, but decided against it, figuring Robinson was already getting more than enough unsolicited advice.

"But I remember when Robby came over (to the American League) from Cincinnati and he was real friendly toward me," Horton said. "One day he gave me some advice. He said I was trying to carry the whole club.

"That little piece of advice helped me have a heck of a season. He told me to just get back to what Willie Horton does.

"That's the same thing I wanted to tell Frank. I see two or three of his key players trying to take on all the pressure. I'm seeing Fred Lynn and the shortstop (Cal Ripken) doing things they don't normally do."

As embarrassing as their streak was, none of the Tigers want to see the Orioles keep on losing.

"That's not good for baseball," Horton said.

Tigers' publicist Dan Ewald covered the club for the Detroit News during the 19-game losing streak. But that wasn't the worst of it, from a newspaperman's perspective.

"The streak was a big national story," Ewald said. "That was easy because that was an angle. But that team lost 102 games and finished 37 1/2 games out. Trying to come up with an angle on losing 102 games, day after day, was really difficult."

Dick Tracewski was a coach on both the 1975 team and the 1984 team.

"We were a team in transition and we weren't very good in 1975," Tracewski said. "We had a lot of young players and some older ones just hanging on.

"The one thing I remember about that streak, and it happens whenever you get in a really bad situation, is that everybody went in separate directions. Players were more concerned about individual performances than about the team."

The Tigers ended their streak when Ray Bare pitched a shutout against the Angels in Anaheim.

"I just can't imagine what that must be like," Brookens said. "Even though it seems like Baltimore's season is lost already, they somehow have to put that out of their minds.

"As soon as they win a game, they have to tell themselves it's a new season, and that they're 1-0."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°