The Grand Haven native and 1975 Grand Haven High School graduate watched the team from afar throughout the regular season and during their inspiring trip to the World Series. Although Wednesday’s Game 1 was a downer, the Tigers’ prior postseason magic has sparked up memories for Bailey of the mid-1980s — the last time Detroit cherished championship glory in the Fall Classic.
Bailey said there was a collective feeling on the squad during Spring Training of 1984 that the season could be special.
“Working out next to (manager) Sparky (Anderson), he always said we’ve got a lot of guys right in the middle,” Bailey said. “Everyone was in the middle of their careers. Nobody was a new guy. With (Jack) Morris, he had already been there for the past 6-7 years and (catcher Lance) Parrish was the same. Our middle infield of (Alan) Trammell and (Lou) Whitaker were just turning the corner and (third baseman Tom) Brookens was also there. Nobody there was an old guy.
"And then, the way that team started (a 35-5 record), that was just amazing. Once that happens, it just makes it easy going forward.”
Bailey had a 5-5 record in 33 games for the Tigers during the 1983 season and despite his reluctance, the organization encouraged him to pitch in a winter league in the Dominican Republic following the season. It was there where Bailey experienced the first of several cases of arm trouble, which essentially cut his career short two years later.
“I was in (the minors) for three-fourths of the year in 1984 and then I was traded to Baltimore in ’85,” Bailey said.
Instead of enduring through another minor league season on the east coast, Bailey opted to retire from the game and head home to West Michigan. Today, Bailey lives with his wife, Tammy, and together they operate a 10-acre blueberry farm. He also owns a packaging company in Grandville.
In his spare time, Bailey is also an accomplished skeet shooter, a hobby he picked up during downtime in Detroit during his playing days. He perfected the craft at the North Ottawa Rod and Gun Club and was inducted into the Michigan Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame last year.
Bailey can’t help but notice the similarities between 1984 Tigers and the current edition, since the core group of today’s Tigers are also in their prime or on the cusp. It all starts with both team’s aces.
“I think the comparisons start with Morris and Justin Verlander. They’re legit,” Bailey said. “Morris was in great shape and a tremendous athlete and from watching Verlander pitch, he seems to be the same way. It looks effortless out there for him. He’s got a nice, smooth delivery.
“For him to go out and throw 120, 130 pitches every time out, that’s amazing,” Bailey added. “Those guys start way back in early February and they’re going every day. It gets old after a while. You’re constantly in motion. It just wears on you.”
With regards to Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland, Bailey said he highly respects the job he’s done of keeping team on the same page, considering there’s hardly a ripple in the news of clashes in the clubhouse or other bickering between players and management.
“That’s difficult, because a guy like (Prince) Fielder shows up, with a big salary and sometimes, guys lose playing time and they feel like their toes are being stepped on,” Bailey said. “Leyland’s done a tremendous job in that aspect, juggling some egos.”
Bailey said the coverage of clashes between teammates wasn’t as profound as it is in today’s media. During his playing days, there were times when teammates often came to blows.
“There were some unbelievable brawls in the bathroom from time-to-time,” he said with a chuckle. “We had a shower area that split up the club house and guys would go there to hash out their differences. Sometimes, when things got heated, they’d try to get the trainers to go break it up, and they’d be like ‘I’m not going in there! But I think the writers didn’t pursue it as much as they do nowadays.”
Bailey said he keeps in contact with former Tigers’ teammates on occasion, including at a recent hospice fundraiser in Grand Rapids. There, he caught up with a handful of early-80s Tigers, including Dan Petry, who went 18-8 during the magical ’84 season.
“Just the other day I got a call from the organization and they were trying to gather alumni for a pre-World Series party at one of the area casinos,” Bailey said.
“Unfortunately, I’ll be in Florida on vacation with my wife.”
One thing is for certain however: Bailey will be watching.