Sports: Where I First Fell in Love with Teamwork

As a product of Southeast Michigan born in the early 1980s, sports were a very important part of my life. I grew up with what I believe are some of the most amazing “teams” of all-time. I truly believe that a large part of my interest in teamwork as a social researcher was formed in watching the amazing feats of connection and collaboration that took place during my formative years.  

For the next few days, I will be pointing toward some of the key reasons I am passionate about both teamwork in general, and sports in particular. Recently, ESPN has participated in a spotlight on Detroit highlighting the 25th anniversary of the Bad Boys and so I thought it fitting to pick up some of the memories and people that have shaped the way I think about teamwork.  

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Today – the 1984 Detroit Tigers

As a three year-old I was a witness to the Roar of ’84 in which the Tigers went wire-to-wire in 1st place and defeated the San Diego Padres to win the World Series. Though I was only three, the impression that team left in my consciousness was deep and important. This team carried such an amazing blueprint for success.

When you think about the team that toiled on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull that year, players such as Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Willie Hernandez, Chet Lemon, Darrell Evans, and Tom Brookens come to mind. Even now after 30 years, I still recall the poetry in motion that these players brought to the diamond. In my world they were larger than life, though even to this day the only member of that team to make the Hall of Fame was their manager.

When you think about the quintessential players of that generation, you think of Boggs, Yount, Molitor, Murray, Rice, Henderson, Carter, Davis, Fisk, Murphy, Sandberg, Schmidt, Garvey, Brett, Smith, Ripken, Gwynn, Strawberry, Gooden, Ryan, Eckersley, Puckett, Fingers, and Hersheiser. Unless, that is, you are from Detroit. Then you think about how this team was powerful in the mid-80s, put together with such amazing depth, complementary parts, and lack of weakness.

Roving the infield as a youngster, Sweet Lou and Trammy were my heroes, leading me to play 2nd and SS for much of my baseball (and now since I am older, softball) career. These two were the greatest double-play combo ever (don’t just believe me check out the stats), they taught me the value of continuity (played together from 1978-1991) and trust. This team never boasted the best player, though Gibson, Morris, and Hernandez were amazing in those playoffs, but brought together a wonderful collection of players who understood their role and had an amazing leader (Sparky Anderson) to guide their collective journey.

What I love about this team is that while there were some real personalities (see Gibson, Kirk; Hernandez, Willie; Allen, Rod; and Lemon, Chet) this wasn’t in anyway a ‘me-first’, or superstar-oriented team. They didn’t have any hitter with 100 RBI and no one with 35 HRs (Lance Parrish surprisingly led Detroit in both categories with 98 RBI and 33 HR). Further, they only one regular player who hit over .300 (Alan Trammell). They had 5 pitchers though with double-digit wins, a closer who had 32 saves (which seems almost pedestrian today), but not a single starter with an ERA south of 3.20 (Dan Petry had a 3.24 ERA the lowest of the starters).

Stats thrown out, when you watched this team they had chemistry. Right from Opening Day they went on a 35-5 start that has never been (and might never be) duplicated. They seemed to enjoy being together, having such an interesting collection of players that each brought something different to the table. To me they are the quintessential team. No megalomaniacs (Gibson’s later run in LA doesn’t factor in at this point), no serious in-fighting, a good deal of diversity, and consistency that led to greatness.

What teams (whether they be sports or not) formed the way you think today?

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