Baseball has changed over the last 40 years, but in many ways it’s still the same.
The ballpark is a magical place that draws fans like moths to a flame.
The atmosphere of a big league game is thrilling, the action often filled with suspense in the form of the batter vs. pitcher duel.
Old players wind down their careers as younger players emerge and take their place.
Fans boo the umpires, and often their own manager. Some things never change.
But when I find something that reminds me of the past, I marvel at the history and beauty of our national pastime. This week, I stumbled across a wonderful set of photos from 1974 that detail rather meticulously a game played on a Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Through these photos taken by a fan, we see far more than just a game – we get a glimpse of what the ballpark looked like before a major renovation a few years later, we see the relatively average size of the players themselves, and we see the trends in fashion from that era. It’s really like traveling back in time.
The game in question was of little consequence. It took place on Saturday, May 11, 1974, and it pitted the visiting Boston Red Sox against the Tigers. It was raining that day, and neither team was expected to be a contender. It was just five weeks into the season, and these two teams, made up largely of veteran players, met in a contest that would be largely forgotten (and rightfully so) if it were not for these marvelous photographs.
The photographer was the father of a man known simply as “Kos” in his online profile at the photo site fotki.com, where he has posted dozens of albums. But this album is the only one that deals with the Detroit Tigers. Kos’s father, a native of Westland, Michigan, was an avid baseball fan who often attended games with his brother and friends. In 1974 he was in his early 30s when he went to this game on May 11, his camera in tow.
The photos are not of great quality compared to what we see in the digital age, and in fact as the photographer zooms in, much quality is lost. But it’s obvious that the fan knew the game of baseball, had a keen eye for action, and he identified important players that day.
One of my favorite photos shows Dick McAuliffe darting down the first base line attempting to avoid grounding into a double play. He fails. In ’74, McAuliffe was a member of the Red Sox, playing his first season for Boston after the Tigers traded him for young outfielder Ben Oglivie. Any Tiger fan worth his weight in salt can tell you the irony in McAuliffe hitting into a DP against the Tigers. In ’67, on the very last day of the season, Mac bounced into the season-ending DP that broke the hearts of Detroit rooters. It was the only double play that Dick hit into all season. Detroit lost the pennant by an eyelash.
There are wonderful photos of third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, one of my favorites when I was a kid. The photographer captures Boston’s Carlton Fisk whipping past home plate with a run for the visitors. Almost as if he knows “Pudge” will one day end up in Cooperstown, the photographer snaps several images of the Boston catcher.
Al Kaline is at the plate in his final season for the Tigers (Al was the DH that day), wrapping up a 22-year career in which he reached the coveted 3,000 hit plateau. On this day he’d garner hit #2,888 and #2889.
I love the photo of “The Silver Fox”, Jim Northrup, as he looks in from his position in right field. The photographer must have inched down the outfield line to snap it. We see Northrup, with his bushy 70’s hair protruding out from beneath his cap.
Little known Tigers like Gary Sutherland, Ron Cash, and Jerry Moses are all here, and we get to a rare glimpse at their game action. Eddie Brinkman, looking more like your 9th grade science teacher than a major league ballplayer, is handling plays in the infield. Mickey Stanley, as versatile as ever, starts the game at first base.
Who’s that handing in the lineup card? It’s Ralph Houk, “The Major”, with his Tigers home jacket unbuttoned at the waist, as was his preference. He’s chatting with Darrell Johnson, who will lead the Red Sox to the pennant the following season.
Some photos are sad because they remind us how old and ill-fated the Tigers team was in ’74. Norm Cash looks old and ineffective, and in fact he’ll be released three months later, a move that will irk Northrup so much that he’ll lash out at GM Jim Campbell. Within days, Northrup will be exiled to Montreal in a trade. Brinkman, Horton, Stanley, and many of the other Tigers are fading out, and the young players in this game: Gary Sutherland (wearing the future #3 of Alan Trammell), Dick Sharon, and Jerry Moses, are just placeholders until something better comes along. This is a team long in the tooth, and the next year when they lost 19 games in row, it really didn’t surprise many people.
There’s weirdness here too – we see Boston lefty Roger Moret, who a few years later will go into a trance-like state and be removed from the Rangers team with mental health issues, never to pitch again.
The game may have been mundane, but history was on display in Tiger Stadium too. Four future Hall of Famers were in uniform and they all saw action: Kaline for the Tigers; and Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski (who scaled Tiger Stadium’s left field screen to make a fine catch) and Juan Marichal for Boston. Marichal made his first relief appearance of the season and just the sixth in his storied career. It would be the only time the “Dominican Dandy” would ever pitch in Tiger Stadium. There are oddly dressed ballpark vendors in the stands, Willie Horton wearing his road helmet in a home game, umpires wearing blazers, and Norm Cash not wearing a helmet at all at the plate (McAuliffe didn’t either).
Another favorite photo is of the Tiger Stadium scoreboard, late in the game when the Tigers were down to their last three outs. They would lose to the Sox, 8-5. But the real losers would be us, if we didn’t have treasures like these photos to remind us what baseball and The Corner were like.