1984: The Year of the Detroit Tigers and The Year of Van Halen

Motor City Bengals

For one Motor City Bengals contributor, two things about 1984 always come to mind immediately. The Detroit Tigers won the World Series. Van Halen became his favorite band. The recent death of Eddie Van Halen brought back memories of that year and the two reasons why 1984 was so special.

The 1984 Detroit Tigers were the best team in Major League Baseball from start to finish. Van Halen’s 1984 album was a huge smash success in record stores, on the radio, and on MTV. A baseball team and a rock & roll band both reached the zenith of performance excellence that year, and each entity’s rise to the top had some interesting parallels early on.

As the California-based Van Halen was honing its craft by playing live gigs at backyard parties in Pasadena and in clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip during the mid-1970s (an era of the band’s history that Greg Renoff wonderfully wrote about in his book, Van Halen Rising), a trio of baseball players from California named Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish, and Dan Petry were honing their craft in the Tigers’ minor league organization.

Warner Brothers Records signed Van Halen to its first major-label record deal in 1977. The Tigers called up prospects like Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, and the aforementioned Trammell and Parrish for their major league debuts that season.

In 1978, Van Halen released its first album, the self-titled classic featuring Eddie Van Halen, one of the best and most beloved rock guitarists of all time. Whitaker, one of baseball’s best second basemen and one of the most beloved Tigers of all time, was the 1978 American League Rookie of the Year.

1984

Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen performs on May 21, 1984 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

1984 Begins

1984 would become a year unlike any other for Van Halen and the Detroit Tigers. A brilliant first single from the band and a dominant record through the team’s first 40 games set the tone accordingly for each. As Van Halen racked up milestones and miles on the road through the spring and summer months, the Tigers racked up victories around the country that spring and summer.

Van Halen’s sixth album, 1984, was released on January 9. Detroit Free Press music critic Gary Graff backhandedly complimented it a little bit in his review. (At least he seemed to like it a little more than he liked their first one.) Harmony House, a chain of record stores that originated in the Detroit area, reported that 1984 had quickly become one of its hottest sellers. People who loved the fun and celebratory “Big Rock” sound that Van Halen specialized in, were all in.

The rock sounded even bigger than ever. From the bold opening salvo of Eddie’s synthesizer instrumental “1984”, through the rambunctious fun of “Top Jimmy”, to the menacing album closer “House Of Pain”, 1984 was the sound of a mammoth rock & roll band at the height of its powers. All of the songs flowed well, and the album was loaded with memorable hooks. Eddie’s dexterity as a guitarist was sharper than ever. It was the first album the band did at Eddie’s brand new home studio, 5150. From then on, Van Halen’s body of work and everything else that Eddie ever recorded on his own originated at 5150.

1984 came out during the period when Tigers fans solemnly stare out windows at snowy yards and long for the beginning of spring training. That early in the new year, there hadn’t been any Tigers news yet, but with John Fetzer selling the team to Tom Monaghan the previous October, and the Tigers signing high-profile free agent Darrell Evans a few weeks prior in December, it hadn’t been an uneventful offseason.

“Jump” was released as the first single from 1984 on December 31, 1983. It hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending February 25, 1984. The syndicated radio show “American Top 40”, hosted by the legendary Detroit-born Casey Kasem, was based on the Hot 100. “Jump” reigned on Casey’s show for five weeks. It was Van Halen’s first number one hit. Its place in ’80s pop culture history is secure, and it’s also become a sporting venue staple. You’ve probably heard that familiar keyboard intro riff at least one game you’ve attended.

Kasem introduced “Jump” as the number one song for the last time on his countdown broadcast for the week ending March 24. That day turned out to be pretty significant for the Tigers. General manager Bill Lajoie made a trade that would have a tremendous effect on the team’s fortunes in 1984. Reliever Willie Hernandez and first baseman Dave Bergman were acquired from the Phillies in exchange for versatile fan-favorite Johnny Wockenfuss and young outfielder Glenn Wilson.

The trade ended up being a steal for the Tigers. Bergman was steady and dependable whenever he was called on by manager Sparky Anderson. After entering the game as a defensive replacement in Chicago on April 7, Bergman made two excellent plays in the seventh and eighth innings, one on a line drive and one on a grounder. Both plays kept Jack Morris’ no-bit bid intact. Bergman’s walk-off home run against the Blue Jays’ Roy Lee Jackson on ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball” on June 4, the culmination of a 13-pitch, multi-foul at-bat, was one of the Tigers’ signature moments of the 1984 regular season. Hernandez excelled as a closer, often going multiple innings to earn his saves. On his way to the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards, Hernandez picked up saves in the Tigers’ division-clinching game, the AL pennant-winning Game 3 of the AL Championship Series, and the decisive Game 5 of the World Series.

1984

Willie Hernandez in 1984. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

A Triumphant April

The Tigers were on the road when Van Halen’s massive 1984 tour hit Detroit in April. The band played the first of a two-night stand at Cobo Arena on April 5. When the show had been announced back in January, it was an almost immediate sellout. A second show was quickly added. Seven of the nine tracks from the album, which went platinum (one million copies sold) by the end of April, made the setlist. The Freep‘s Graff wanted to make sure readers knew that he was too much of a grown-up to really like a band like Van Halen, but his review suggested that deep down inside, he might have actually liked them a little bit. The 1984 Van Halen concert experience was showcased in the “Panama” video.

One concertgoer who definitely enjoyed himself was Kurt Jefferis, the winner of MTV’s “Lost Weekend With Van Halen” contest. He got to be Van Halenized while the band was in Detroit. As the end of the night’s last song, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, drew near, Jefferis was brought out on stage and introduced to the Cobo crowd by the evening’s master of ceremonies, David Lee Roth, with MTV cameras rolling to capture all the wild shenanigans. A 15-minute mini-documentary about Jefferis’ experience, Lost Weekend, was released earlier in 2020. He ended up with quite a story to tell.

That night, the Tigers played their second game of the season. After rolling to a 8-1 Opening Day win over the Twins in the Metrodome, they followed up with a 7-3 win. Alan Trammell went 4-for-5 with the first of 14 homers that he’d hit in 1984. Kirk Gibson added a three-run bomb, the first of 27 longballs that he launched that year. Dan Petry got the first of his 18 wins. Willie Hernandez wrapped things up with two scoreless innings of relief.

Van Halen’s second straight sold-out Detroit show was on April 6. It would be the band’s final performance at Cobo Arena. Over the course of three tours as a headliner and one appearance as an opener, they’d played that stage 11 times. They’d come a long way since they played Detroit for the first time, at the Masonic Temple, in March 1978. After 1984, subsequent incarnations of Van Halen were booked at other venues in the area, like Joe Louis Arena, the Pontiac Silverdome, Pine Knob, and the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Detroit Tigers

David Lee Roth (L) and Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen perform on May 21, 1984 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

April 6 was also a successful night for the 1984 Tigers. This time, they were in Chicago, facing the White Sox at Comiskey Park. Detroit was especially dangerous in the first inning that season. They scored all the runs in their 3-2 win during the first inning. Trammell walked and stole second. Darrell Evans singled him in. Later in the inning, with the bases loaded, Dave Bergman knocked in two with a single. Milt Wilcox, who’d almost thrown a perfect game in that ballpark a year earlier, picked up the first of his career-high 17 wins. Hernandez picked up the first of his career-high 32 saves. The next day, the Tigers ran their record to 3-0 on Jack Morris’ no-hitter. The nine-game winning streak to start the season gave fans a sense that 1984 could be a special year for Detroit baseball.

“I’ll Wait”, another 1984 single that featured Eddie Van Halen’s keyboard playing, peaked at number two on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart for the week ending April 28. The title may have sounded like a cruel joke to any fans at Tiger Stadium who stayed until the end of the game that started on Friday night, April 27. They had a long wait. The game ended on Saturday morning (1:19 AM), five hours and 44 minutes after it began. A four-run rally in the top of the 19th inning gave the Indians an 8-4 win over the Tigers. It dropped Detroit’s record to 16-2.

On Saturday afternoon, April 28, if the Tigers had shown up at the ballpark tired, they perked right up once the game started. Trammell’s stolen base in the first inning put him in position to score on an Evans single, and the Tigers took a quick 1-0 lead. In the second, Tram doubled in two runs to bump the lead to 3-0. The Indians scored a couple off Morris in the fourth. Two homers off Tigers bats in the bottom of the fourth, Chet Lemon‘s solo blast and Whitaker’s two-run shot, put Detroit up 6-2. Morris shut Cleveland down the rest of the way for a complete game win. Morris, who never met a ‘W’ he didn’t like, had a sparkling 5-0 record. (He missed becoming a two-time 20-game winner in 1984 by one win.) The 6-2 score held up as the final. A 6-1 victory in the series finale on April 29 gave the Tigers an 18-2 record for the month of April, and they were halfway to the iconic 35-5.

Detroit Tigers

Jack Morris in 1984. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

The Summer of ’84

Van Halen’s 1984 had peaked at number two on the Billboard 200, an album chart. It was their highest showing on that chart at the time. The album that had kept 1984 from the number one spot was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which had also dominated the 200 for much of 1983. The irony of that, of course, is that Eddie Van Halen laid down a blazing guitar solo on Michael’s song “Beat It”. It was a genius idea on the part of producer Quincy Jones to have Eddie play on Thriller, even if Eddie (legendarily) thought he was getting a prank call when Jones first called him. “Beat It” became one of the album’s landmark hits and won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1984. The solo is considered by many to be one of Eddie’s best. He joined Michael onstage to play “Beat It” live when The Jacksons’ Victory Tour hit Texas Stadium in Dallas on July 14.

The Tigers were on a victory tour through Minneapolis that weekend. After taking a quick two-game series from the Twins at the Metrodome to start the season, the Tigers returned to sweep a three-game series this time. Detroit delivered Minnesota some Friday the 13th bad luck in the opener. An 11th inning two-run inside-the-park home run from Whitaker gave the Tigers a 5-3 win. Sadly, the Tigers also got some bad luck of their own when Trammell was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He hadn’t played since July 8 and wouldn’t return until July 31.

1984

Lou Whitaker in 1984. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

On July 14, as Eddie and MJ were treating concertgoers to an extended jam version of “Beat It”, the Tigers again needed extra innings to beat the Twins.

The game was 4-4 in the top of the 12th. With one out, Gibson doubled. Parrish was intentionally walked. Lemon singled. Gibson, fully intending on scoring the go-ahead run, kicked his already-high intensity level up a couple more notches. After barreling over the catcher, he went back and touched the plate after realizing the umpire hadn’t immediately made a call after the collision. Parrish took third, and Lemon advanced to second on the throw. Evans was intentionally walked. Bergman’s sacrifice fly knocked Parrish in with an insurance run that the Tigers would need. Hernandez, who’d thrown 1-2-3 innings in the 10th and 11th innings, got the first two outs in the 12th. He then gave up a home run, but bounced back to get the third out for a 6-5 win.

Whitaker’s four hits led the Tigers’ 15-hit attack in the Sunday afternoon finale on July 15 as the Tigers wrapped up the sweep with a 6-2 win. Van Halen had the wild and free-spirited “Diamond Dave” on the microphone. The Tigers had the wild and free-spirited Dave Rozema on the mound. He got the win that day. It was the Tigers’ 60th victory of the season. They’d only lost 28 at that point.

The Tigers returned home on July 16 and beat the White Sox 7-1. Glenn Abbott, a veteran pitcher who was wrapping up his career with Detroit in 1984, got credit for his last big league win.  He retired the first 13 batters he faced but had to battle the rest of the way. A Ron Kittle home run in the ninth was Abbott’s only blemish in a complete-game performance. It was one of the few times a pitcher went the distance and did not strike out a single batter. Gibson was the big bat in the Tigers’ lineup, with a triple and a home run that accounted for three runs driven in.

That same night, Van Halen played the last show on the 1984 North American tour, the third of three sold-out nights in Dallas.

1984

Kirk Gibson in 1984. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

“Panama” peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending August 18. That is the song that got your humble narrator hooked on Van Halen. It sounded so good on the radio that summer, especially when it was nice and loud. The way it immediately stomped out of the speakers was an attention-getter. Alex Van Halen’s propulsive drumming was the driving force. Eddie had a really killer guitar tone, and his riffing and soloing took listeners on a sonic adventure. “Panama” was – and still is – a very catchy and charismatic song. It’s loaded with rock & roll swagger. Watching the video back then made it seem like being in – or around – Van Halen was lots and lots of fun. In the song, Panama is the name of the car that David Lee Roth is singing about. It has nothing to do with Juan Berenguer’s home country.

Berenguer, the Tigers’ Panamanian pitcher, rocked the Mariners in front of a Saturday night Tiger Stadium crowd on August 18. Gibson’s three-run home run in the sixth, his 20th of the season, was the game-winning shot in the 4-3 Tigers triumph, but it was Berenguer’s night. In 8.1 innings, he struck out 12, which was a career-high. It was also the most strikeouts by any Tigers starter that season. Petry came close when he struck out 11 Mariners the next day, but Seattle somehow won that one, 4-1.

With the Sunday edition on August 19, the Detroit Free Press began running the Tigers’ magic number at the top of the sports page. The magic number was 28, or according to Sparky Anderson, “the area where it means something.” The countdown was on.

On August 18, Van Halen rocked a crowd of 65,000 at the “Monsters of Rock” festival in Donington, England. They went on before the headliners, AC/DC. Ozzy Osbourne went on before Van Halen. The other acts on the bill were Gary Moore, Y&T, Accept, and the opening band, Motley Crue. The last time that Van Halen, Ozzy, and Motley had played together was at the 1983 US Festival. Van Halen was offered $1.5 million to play that gig, and the payday landed them in the 1984 Guinness Book of World Records. In the brand new category, Highest Paid Single Appearance of a Band, Van Halen was the record-setter. The band had already started working on 1984 when they took a break from the studio to do the show.

The Donington show was the kickoff of a brief European “Monsters of Rock” tour, which moved on to Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. On the second of the two shows in front of a German audience, on September 2, Van Halen played its last gig on the tour, which continued on. After the band finished its set in Nuremberg, the foursome of Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, and David Lee Roth never played a concert together again.

1984

(L-R) Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen on May 21, 1984 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

September To Remember

Thanks to spring and summer of excellence and excitement all the way around, Van Halen and the Detroit Tigers reaped some of the rewards of their successes in September.

The band won an MTV Video Music Award on September 14. The video for “Jump”, which showed Eddie Van Halen smiling and grinning all the way through his performance, beat out videos by David Bowie, Duran Duran, The Pretenders, and Bette Midler in the category of Best Stage Performance In A Video.  The beauty of the “Jump” video is its simplicity. It’s stripped-down presentation is the complete opposite of the hyperactive “Panama” and over-the-top cheeky “Hot For Teacher” videos that followed. Nominated in two other categories, “Jump” lost to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (Best Overall Performance In A Video) and ZZ Top’s “Legs” (Best Group Video). In both cases, that’s understandable. Those two videos are classics.

A few days later, on a Tuesday night at Tiger Stadium, with a capacity crowd on hand to cheer them to victory, the Tigers won the 1984 AL East Division title. Rookie Randy O’Neal, a September callup from Evansville, made his first big league start (in only his second big league appearance).  He threw seven shutout innings as the Tigers beat the Brewers 3-0. O’Neal gave up just four hits and walked only one while striking out six.

The Tigers really got all the offense they needed in the first inning. Whitaker and Trammell, who were dynamic catalysts at the top of the lineup that year, got things started again. Whitaker walked, and Trammell doubled him to third. “Sweet Lou” scored on a groundout by Parrish. It was another quick 1-0 lead for the Tigers. They added another run in the sixth when Trammell doubled and Parrish singled him in. Tom Brookens led off the seventh with a solo home run.

October Glory

The 1984 Detroit Tigers faced the West Division winners, the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series. The Tigers swept their way to the World Series. Each game of the ALCS was distinctly different. Detroit thumped Kansas City 8-1 in Game 1, smacking three home runs in the process. After losing an early 3-0 lead in Game 2, the Tigers needed a heroic 11th inning two-run double from Johnny Grubb to put the Royals away 5-3. When the series moved from Missouri to Michigan, the Tigers completed the sweep after Wilcox won a pitching duel to lead Detroit to a 1-0 triumph in Game 3.

When the World Series began in San Diego, the Tigers hit the ground running in Game 1 against the Padres. The National League champs trailed 1-0 after a leadoff single from Whitaker and an RBI double from Trammell. The Padres answered back with two runs in the bottom of the first, but Morris shut them down the rest of the way. Larry Herndon‘s two-run homer in the fifth provided the Tigers with the margin of victory in the 3-2 win. The Padres managed to beat the Tigers 5-3 in Game 2, but it was San Diego’s last win of the year. From there, the Series moved on to the Motor City.

It was a festive Friday night at Tiger Stadium for Game 3. With two outs in the second, Marty Castillo cracked a two-run home run, Whitaker walked, Trammell doubled him in, and later in the inning, a bases-loaded walk to Herndon forced Tram in. It was a very nice four-run rally. The Tigers went on to win 5-2. Game 4 was the game in which Trammell clinched the World Series MVP award. Whitaker reached on an error to lead off the bottom of the first. Trammell hit a two-run home run. In the third, after a Whitaker single, Tram knocked his second two-run homer of the game. It was a 4-2 victory for the Tigers. For the second time in the Series, Morris pitched a complete game.

Sunday, October 14 is a date that will live forever in the hearts of Tigers fans who rooted for the team in 1984. The Tigers feasted in the first inning once again in Game 5. Gibson hit a two-run homer. Lemon’s RBI single, which gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead, knocked starter Mark Thurmond out of the game. Whitaker kept the Padres off the board in the bottom of the first when he threw a runner out at the plate. After San Diego tied it in the fourth, they put the potential go-ahead runner on second. With two outs, Sparky Anderson called on “Señor Smoke” Aurelio Lopez, who had been outstanding as a shut-down reliever all season long. Lopez struck again by striking out Kurt Bevacqua to end the threat.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers took the lead on a daring play by Gibson, who tagged up from third after Rusty Kuntz sent a flyball to shallow right that the Padres’ second baseman, Alan Wiggins caught. Lopez went back out and pitched two 1-2-3 innings to hold the lead. Parrish hit a solo homer off Goose Gossage in seventh, but Bevacqua hit one off Hernandez in the top of the eighth. That made it a 5-4, in favor of the Tigers.

Then came the bottom of the eighth. Gossage walked Castillo. Whitaker reached safely on a strange play. After he laid down a sacrifice bunt, third baseman Graig Nettles fielded the ball and threw it to shortstop Garry Templeton, who was standing in front of second base. He hadn’t been covering the bag, though, because he was expecting the throw to go to first. Trammell laid down another sac bunt, and the runners advanced.

With first base open and Gibson up, Padres manager Dick Williams wanted to intentionally walk Gibson. Gossage, who struck Gibson out in his first big league at-bat four years earlier, talked his skipper out of it. Goose thought he could get Gibby out. Williams let his veteran reliever pitch to Gibson. Oops. On a 1-0 pitch, the Tigers’ slugger avenged a strikeout from 1980 and proved his nemesis wrong. The ball jumped off his bat and landed in Tiger Stadium’s upper deck in right field. The three-run bomb put the Tigers up 8-4 and essentially sealed the deal for the Tigers. Detroit Free Press photographer Mary Schroeder’s front-page photo of Gibson leaping in triumph, his fierce completive nature in full display on his game-face, is as iconic as any photo in Tigers history.

A scoreless top of the ninth from Hernandez brought the 1984 World Series to a close. At 7:41 PM, left-fielder Herndon caught Tony Gwynn’s pop fly for the third out, and Detroit won the championship.

Later that month, Van Halen’s 1984 was certified 4x platinum (four million copies sold). On the strength of the band’s high visibility and a surge in popularity that monstrous year, sales of their back catalog increased. 1984 was the first year that the Recording Industry Association of America began issuing award plaques for multi-platinum albums. Van Halen was among the first bands to get that recognition. 1978’s debut was certified triple platinum, and 1980’s Women and Children First and 1982’s Diver Down were each certified double platinum that October. 1984 has since gone to achieve Diamond certification for 10 million copies sold. (The debut has also been certified Diamond.)

1984

Alan Trammell in the 1984 World Series. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

Epilogue

Things were never really the same for Van Halen or the Detroit Tigers after 1984.

David Lee Roth, who was rock & roll’s most bombastic party host back in those days, left Van Halen for a solo career in 1985. After fans were teased with the possibility of a reunion in 1996, all they got were two new songs that Dave sang for a ‘best-of’ compilation. He wouldn’t return as the band’s lead singer until 2007. The final Van Halen album, A Different Kind of Truth, came out in 2012.

The Tigers weren’t able to repeat as champs in 1985. With the exception of All-Star catcher Lance Parrish (who had departed via free agency), most of 1984’s key players were still key players on the 1987 team that lost to the Twins in the ALCS. Detroit didn’t see another Tigers team in the postseason until 2006. The last World Series appearance happened in 2012.

1984 was a special year for both a rock & roll band and a baseball team. Decades later, memories of the brilliance of Van Halen and the dominance of the Detroit Tigers that year still resonate deeply.

(In memory of Eddie Van Halen, who sometimes wore tiger-striped pants onstage.)

1984

Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen performs on May 21, 1984 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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