When the Detroit Tigers defeated the overmatched Kansas City Royals, 1-0, here Friday to complete a three-game sweep of the American League championship series, they brought to an end years of frustration for their manager, for themselves and for their city.
The Tigers are a team whose rallying cry was born when their manager was under attack, shackled with the nickname, "Fifth-Place Sparky."
They are a team, tabbed for greatness year after year, that finally lived up to that billing this year.
They are a team from a baseball-crazy city, one with a long tradition of winning that suffered for 16 years without a pennant, and then ran amok Friday night when the drought finally ended with the blessing of a title.
"Baseball people knew three, four, five years ago that the Tigers had the talent to be an excellent team," Royals Manager Dick Howser said several hours before his team's season ended. "The only questions were whether the talent would ever develop and whether they would get the pitching."
This year, the Tigers have answered those questions decisively. Catcher Lance Parrish (28 years old), shortstop Alan Trammell (26), second baseman Lou Whitaker (26) and right fielder Kirk Gibson (27) -- most notably Gibson -- began peaking together. Combined with some shrewd moves -- getting Chet Lemon from Chicago, Larry Herndon from San Francisco and Darrell Evans through free agency -- they gave Detroit a devastating lineup.
That lineup was backed this year by solid starting pitching and fabulous relief pitching. The Tigers may have only three consistent starters -- Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox -- but with Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez in the bullpen (19 victories, 46 saves combined), they had all the pitching they needed.
That was never more evident than against the Royals. Kansas City hit .170 for the series and had 21 total bases -- a playoff record for futility. The Royals never led, scoring four runs in three games.
If getting Rick Sutcliffe was the move that made the Chicago Cubs winners this year, getting Hernandez from the Philadelphia Phillies during spring training was the final piece in the Tigers' puzzle.
"I knew in Florida that if our bullpen held up, we'd win," Manager Sparky Anderson said. "Once we got Willie, that question was answered."
Anderson is a man for whom this season has answered a lot of questions. In nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (1970-78), he won five division titles, four pennants and two World Series. But many people said the players, several of them future Hall of Famers, made the Reds, not Anderson.
When he came here early in the 1979 season, people said the Tigers would be his test. The young talent was there: could Anderson win with it?
No. At least not right away. By 1982, some people were saying it was time to change managers. One local television man took to calling Anderson, "Fifth-Place Sparky." One fan, loyal to Anderson and the Tigers, wrote him to say that he should be kinder, more understanding and not so critical.
The television personality responded by reading the letter on the air after a Tigers defeat. Then, he looked into the camera and said to the Tigers who had tried hard that night, "Bless you boys."
A rallying cry was born. Now, it appears on shirts, caps, jackets and sweaters everywhere in Detroit. Anderson's newly published autobiography is titled, "Bless You Boys." And Anderson and the television man now do a weekly show together.
"He used to call me up and say, 'You better watch tonight because I'm really going to rip you,' " Anderson said, laughing. "I would call him afterward and tell him in the National League we called that making love. I told him if he wanted to rip, he really had to rip."
Anderson can laugh today. Now, he owns the town. The Tigers won 92 games last year but had the misfortune to play in the same division as the Baltimore Orioles. This year, they started 35-5 and never looked back, making Anderson the first manager in history to win 100 games in both leagues.
At 50, Anderson looks no different today than he did at 36 with the Reds. He is still white-haired, bandy-legged and the greatest living master of the double negative. "Don't never embarrass nobody by comparing them to Johnny Bench," Anderson once told reporters.
But now he has become something of a latter-day Casey Stengel, malapropping along, holding court day and night and, most importantly, winning lots of games.
"You know a lot of people laugh at Sparky, but he's a very wise man," said Wilcox, whose eight innings of two-hit pitching Friday was the key to the Tigers' clinching victory. "Before the playoffs he called a meeting and told us just what to expect. Nothing surprises him, so nothing surprises us. And, because he's so great with the media, he takes a lot of the pressure off us."
Now, Anderson has a chance to become the first manager to win World Series with teams from each league. The Tigers will use the same formula they used to sweep the Royals: Morris, Petry and Wilcox will start, Hernandez and Lopez will be up at the first sign of trouble, and the lineup will be expected to produce as it has all year.
If the Tigers win the World Series, one only can wonder what will happen here. Friday, despite the presence of hundreds of police, many fans tried to storm the field. They were turned away by brute force. Outside, several thousand more fans tried to force their way into the stadium only to be turned away.
They responded by running madly on the streets surrounding Tiger Stadium, rocking buses as they tried to depart, throwing bottles and generally wreaking havoc.
"I'm almost glad," one policeman said, "that this only happens every 16 years."