And there's a lot to like. The Detroit players are, by and large, so mammoth that Anderson, in a bit of classic hyperbolic Sparkyese, calls Andress "the most valuable guy on this team"—a claim that makes Andress fairly blush. Shucks, it's easy, he says, when you have players like the 6'3", 225-pound Deer, who are "so genetically gifted. If he wanted to play football, he'd be 270 pounds and playing tight end or linebacker in the NFL."
Then again, the Tigers do have some before-and-after success stories, such as catcher Chad Kreuter, who finished last season weighing 190 pounds and hitting .205 for his career. Kreuter, 28, decided to skip playing winter ball in the Caribbean for the first time in five years. "It's a struggle to keep down what you eat there," he says. Instead, he adhered to a rigorous weight-training program and added 15 pounds of bulk, as well as some pop to his hitting. Kreuter, who had hit just two home runs in 92 games since 1989, had ripped four already this season as of Sunday—including a 471-foot shot into Tiger Stadium's upper deck beyond right centerfield—while batting a team-high .369. "I'm just staying asleep as I go," he says. "I'm going to ride this as long as I can and not think about what's going on."
This newfound prowess at the plate has made Kreuter, a career backup, Detroit's regular catcher and required that Anderson move his erstwhile starting receiver, the 6'2", 212-pound Tettleton, to leftfield, rightfield or first base, depending on how the manager is using his other interchangeable parts. Anderson also has at his disposal veteran utilityman Tony Phillips (.344), who has started at second base, third base, all three outfield positions and DH, and former All-Star shortstop Alan Trammell (.312), who has returned after missing all but 29 games last season with a broken right ankle. In moving over from third base to fill in for Trammell last year, Travis Fryman (.306, 31 RBIs) emerged as one of the premier shortstops in the game. Thus Trammell has become available to play shortstop, third base, leftfield and centerfield (to say nothing of the fact that he has warmed up pitchers in the bullpen).
Got all that? Even Anderson, who also juggles a 12-man pitching staff, can get confused. He brought in closer Mike Henneman to pitch what he thought was the ninth inning of a May 12 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Actually, it was only the eighth. When Henneman retired the side, Anderson bounded from the dugout to shake his hand. After about 10 steps, Anderson realized his gaffe and sheepishly returned to the bench. He later admitted, "Somewhere in the middle of the game, I lost track of what inning it was."
Excepting that lapse, Anderson has done a splendid job of employing the right combination of players and fostering their confidence. Half of the Tigers were abandoned by other organizations, either through selling off their contracts or releasing them. Two of those castoffs, lefthanded pitchers Bob MacDonald and Wells, had gone a combined 8-2 with a 2.20 ERA through Sunday, even though Toronto gave up on them in spring training. When Wells joined Detroit, the first thing Anderson told him was to lose his earring. Once that was resolved, the 6'4", 225-pound Wells, with his considerable appetites for food and heavy metal, has fit in perfectly with the Tigers. "I had one bad year in Toronto, and it was, 'See you later,' " Wells says. "Now Bob and I are here sitting back laughing."
No castoff, though, has been more important to Detroit than Kirk Gibson, who played for the Tigers from 1979 to '87. Upon being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates after only 16 games last season, Gibson retired to his real estate company in suburban Detroit. It was actually a blessing for his baseball career, as his battered legs were allowed to recover from four years of assorted ailments. When Tiger assistant general manager Gary Vitto approached him over the winter about rejoining his old team, Gibson grew excited about playing for Anderson again. By January he had begun working out regularly at Tiger Stadium with veterans Trammell and Frank Tanana, now of the New York Mets. "They talked a lot about how the game has changed and how it has moved away from teammates wanting to be together," Andress says. "Gibby wanted it to be like the old days, with everyone waking up and thinking world championship every day, not waking up and thinking today is just another day."
Talk about prehistoric. But Gibson, the man with the perpetual Flintstonian stubble, is actually succeeding in keeping individual agendas out of a modern-day clubhouse. While he has been among the league's leading hitters all year (.342 through Sunday) and reached base nearly 50% of the time, he also has been starring for Detroit on air guitar and lead vocals. His heavy-metal gospel rules the clubhouse. "You see where the stereo is, don't you?" he barks. Well, of course. It sits right above Gibson's locker, with a collection of CDs not fit for the faint of heart, nor the faint of ear. "Guns N' Roses, Metallica, AC/DC...we get a little crazy, I guess," Gibson says. "Certain guys like the words. Certain guys like the strings. I like the strings. Listen to that string! Twaaang! Wow, that's sweet."
Gibson plays everything to the max, especially baseball. During a lengthy rain delay on May 4, with Detroit trailing the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in the sixth, Gibson began screaming at his teammates once he heard the rain was slackening. "Those guys are sitting over there hoping they call the game," Gibson said. "Well, we're going back out there, and we're going to be playing until one o'clock in the morning if we have to, and we're here to win it. Let's go!" The Tigers, chin straps firmly buckled, rallied for a 5-3 win.
Ten days later Gibson yelled at Henneman from the dugout after Henneman allowed a game-tying home run to the Baltimore Orioles' Brady Anderson in the ninth inning. "I'm standing out there," says Henneman, "and I can hear this guy screaming at me, 'Let's go! Battle, battle! We're going to win this——game.' " Henneman pitched out of the inning, and the Tigers won in their next at bat.
Henneman broke in with the Tigers in 1987, Gibson's last year in Detroit, and he sees a different Gibson this time around. "Yeah, less hair," he says. Actually, Gibson admits he is a smarter hitter and a less angry person. "He's a better player than he's ever been," Henneman says.