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Essential Games of the Detroit Tigers, The (DVD Review)

12 Apr, 2010 By: Mike Clark

$29.95 four-DVD set
Not Rated.

Well, this one had me from the get-go — both as a former film critic for the Detroit Free Press and from my deathless memory of the first of four games that are preserved in full here — one that fully rewarded the brutal schedule I used to set for myself every year in college.

The Tigers played the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1968 World Series, as the latter defended their title during that unbelievable ERA pitching year the Cards’ Bob Gibson had — in what would also be the final games in the career of ex-Yankee Roger Maris (finally given some deserved peace with a team that appreciated him). In those days, the Series was still played in the afternoon, so I did what I always did: schedule classes exclusively in the morning and beginning at 8 a.m. for the entire quarter — leaving the afternoons free to accommodate the Series for that relatively short chunk of time on the long September-December school calendar.

The Cards went up 3-to-1 in the Series, and visions of past and future sleep deprivation dominated my mind as it appeared that the Tigers were not going to make anything much of it, 31-game-winner Denny McLain and a healthy-hitting team notwithstanding. And this was especially so after the Cards scored three runs in the first inning of game 5, which is the jewel that kicks of this set.

First off, very, very few complete games even exist before 1970, especially those in vintage black-and-white (the still-existent 1969 Mets-Orioles Series was the first in color). So this game already offers a special old-school kick when — with the Tigers still down 3-2 in the seventh inning — we see veteran Al Kaline, who’d missed two months of the season with a broken arm, came to the plate with the bases loaded. No Tigers fan will ever forget the Texas League single he then poked, which turned around the lead and led to a mandatory win that set up game 6 (a Tigers blow-out victory) and 7 (a squeaker they also won on, alas, a misplay by Cards’ supreme-o center fielder Curt Flood).

Late in game 5, you do get to see Maris as a pinch-hitter striking out, but the timing is nice given that a new and definitive bio has just come out: Roger Maris — Baseball’s Reluctant Hero by Tom Clavin and (frequently outstanding film writer) Danny Peary.

The rest of the set does a nice job of spacing out the glory. Everyone remembers Kirk Gibson’s classic 1988 old-guy home run (a walk-off right out of Robert Redford’s sunnier version of Bernard Malamud’s The Natural) in the Series opener when he was with the Dodgers.

But in the game 5 finale of the 1984 Series, that year’s American League Championship Series MVP hit two home runs (including a Padres back-breaker in the eighth). That game is this set’s second selection, and viewers get a lovely choice: Vin Scully on the network broadcast or Tigers institution Ernie Harwell announcing it with the radio feed. Either could make it a pleasure to listen to a rain delay of the Yucca Flats Rum-dums, but Harwell is the Tigers.

The other two selections are relatively more recent and just as big. One is the final game at played at Tiger Stadium (1999), in which designated hitter Rob Fick — on his way to five RBIs total — hit a late-game grand slam that hit the roof. The other is the game 4 finale of the 2006 ALCS, where right fielder Magglio Ordonez hit a no-doubter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Oakland Athletics and send the Tigers into the World Series (which the Cardinals won handily).

Per always with these Major League Baseball/A&E box sets, bountiful extras are all over the place: the raucous crowd reaction to zany pitcher Mark Fidyrich’s defeat of the Yankees on a 1976 Monday night network broadcast; Travis Fryman hitting for the cycle in 1993; the final game of shortstop Allen Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker (now, there was an epoch) in 1995; and much, much more. Some sharpie even thought to include highlights from the 1971 All-Star game at Tiger Stadium – which included a classic Reggie Jackson moon shot (when he was playing for Oakland) that made my month at the time. Off the roof’s transformer, baby.


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