Back in mid March, during the height of baseball's spring training period, Manager Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers wasn't quite sure whether his pitching staff was good enough to stay with the Yankees, Orioles, and Brewers. The rest of his club, Anderson admitted, was pennant material.
But during Detroit's recent eight-game winning streak, nearly everyone on the staff pitched well, at least well enough to suggest that the Tigers are no glass menagerie. Jack Morris leads Detroit with five victories, while Kevin Saucier has been outstanding in relief, with the entire staff only one percentage point away from having the third best earned-run average in the American League.
Yet the Tiger players who got most of the headlines during that streak were left fielder Larry Herndon and designated hitter Mike Ivie. Herndon, a line-drive hitter who Anderson says never reached his potential in six years with San Francisco, had a major league record-tying four consecutive home runs against the Oakland A's over a two-day period.
Ivie, whose major league history has been clouded with personal problems and weight problems during stops at San Diego, San Francisco, and Houston, was picked off the waiver list by Anderson and immediately installed as the designated hitter. In his first 11 games with the Tigers Mike exploded for four homers and 11 runs batted in.
But there have been times when Ivie has eaten as though he had a closet in his skeleton.
''I've always liked the way Mike has swung a bat,'' explained Anderson, who eight years ago called Ivie baseball's best young catching prospect since Johnny Bench.