Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tigers' Growth In Early 80's Greatly Helped By Houk

The Major: Ralph Houk, Tigers manager from 1974-78

Ozz, one of my loyal readers, was writing me in response to a post I made on my general sports blog, "Out of Bounds", about transitional coaches and managers -- those men who take teams from the bottom and lead them somewhere around the middle, but no higher.

"Would Ralph Houk (1974-78) be considered a transitional manager?," Ozz wondered about the man who was the first to manage the likes of Trammell, Whitaker, Morris, and Parrish in the big leagues.

I wrote back and said no, Houk retired, and thus shouldn't be considered transitional, for he probably could have stayed had he wanted.

But Houk, upon retrospect, should be recognized.

Houk set the table for Sparky Anderson (I don't count Les Moss), guiding the young Tigers to an 86-76 record in 1978, his last in Detroit. Sparky joined the team in June 1979.

The Tigers of 1974, Houk's first season, were a hollowed-out shell of the 1968 and '72 teams that won the World Series and AL East, respectively. The heroes from those teams, still on the Tigers in '74, were old and way past their prime. The minor leagues weren't providing much in the way of solid big league talent. The Tigers were a foundering franchise, and it would be up to Houk -- a veteran manager who'd spent many seasons piloting the Yankees -- to weather the storm while giving some sorely-needed big league playing time to guys like Danny Meyer, Leon Roberts, Ron LeFlore, and Tom Veryzer. The Trammells and Whitakers were still several years away from being MLB-ready.

So the Tigers lost, and they lost, and they lost some more. In 1975, they lost 19 games in a row in July and August, on their way to dropping 46 of their last 57 games. 1976 was another losing season, but made bearable by the presence of Mark "The Bird Fidrych.

And Houk never whined, never panicked, never acted as anything but a class act, even though he was stuck, most of the time, with an inferior roster than his league counterparts. It wasn't until the core of the 1984 team hit the bigs as everyday players that Houk was able to enjoy a winning season in Detroit.

Houk retired after the '78 season, but then reemerged a few years later with the Red Sox. I went to a game in 1983 with the Red Sox in town. Kirk Gibson hit one over the roof, and the Tigers won. Sometime during the game, Houk went into another of his trademark tirades, kicking dirt, tossing his cap to the ground, and getting ejected.

Good old Ralphie. Always The Major.

He retired again-- for good -- after the next season.


Blogger Ozz said...

I'm honored to have been an inspiration in the writing of this blog!

1:07 AM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Hey, gotta give my loyals their props!

1:54 AM  

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