Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 8/20/12
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Larry Herndon wasnt the World Series MVP for the Tigers in 1984. That title went to Alan Trammell. But it was Herndon who set the tone for the five-game series triumph over the Padres, and then ended it by clutching the final out of Game 5 in left field at Tiger Stadium as the old ballpark erupted with joy. Herndons two-run homer off Mark Thurmond in Game 1 put Detroit ahead, 3-2, in the fifth inning and Jack Morris shut the door as the Tigers won by that score. San Diego won Game 2, and its quite possible the Series could have had a different outcome without that blast. Yet, Herndon, who did not like being on stage, had his clothes taken out of his locker and into a back room so he could dress quickly and escape the media horde. It was his biggest moment, and he left the bows to the rest of his teammates. That is why Herndon, while being one of the most beloved members of the84 Tigers inside the clubhouse, was not that widely known outside the teams inner circle. Everybody liked him well enough. He was polite. But fans really missed out by not getting to see what made him tick. Its better late than never, though. Let me share with you a conversation I had with him recently in the dugout at Bright House Field. Batting practice for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, who employ him as the hitting coach and first base coach, had just ended and the game with the Clearwater Threshers was 90 minutes away. I shook hands with Herndon and the years seemed to melt away. Ive never been happier in my life, Herndon said with a downright giddy smile. Why? he said, repeating my question. Well, its baseball. Its being in Florida. Its the spirit of athletics. Its being part of the Tigers -- a very special organization. A family is a beautiful thing, and thats what the Tigers are. He held a big cigar in one hand. Thats what a guy who celebrates every day does. I split time between my home in Mississippi and here, Herndon said. You cant beat it. Just like nobody could beat the 84 Tigers. They were 35-5 out of the box, and played so dominantly that Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson always called it one of his hardest seasons. The fact that anything short of winning it all would be a huge disappointment haunted him, but didnt claim him. The Tigers won a club-record 104 games that year; finished 15 games in front of the pack; swept the Royals in the playoffs; and limited the Padres to one win in the Series. We had the most fun you can have in baseball that year, Herndon said. You cant have more fun! That was a world championship team -- a team that never stopped loving one another. Its a brotherhood. It is a group of brothers. We talk all the time still. Who is his best friend among all those brothers? Dan Petry, he said without hesitation. What a great guy Dan is. Herndon played left field next to All-Star centerfielder Chet Lemon. Now, he coaches a Lakeland left fielder named Marcus Lemon, Chets 24-year-old son. To coach Chets son, Herndon said, man, what a treat. He laughs like his dad, moves like his dad. Its just crazy. I look over at him and say, Thats a young Chester! Herndon looked down and chuckled at the thought. He said he feels blessed to enjoy the game and life this much. That brotherhood we have started with Sparky, Herndon said. We all loved the man. We all miss the man. He misses Tiger Stadium, too. Do you remember the smells of that place? Herndon asked. I nodded. Youd walk in and smell the fresh-cut grass and hot dogs on the grill, Herndon continued. Id talk to the people preparing the hot dogs all the time. They were great. I love that place -- still do. I could not bring myself to drive by it when it was getting torn down. That last game there, when we all ran onto the field one last time, I can still remember standing next to Willie Horton. The man was just sobbing. Horton, the left fielder on the 1968 World Series winners, also continues working in the Tigers front office. Herndon played for Detroit, 1982-88, and was in the starting lineup on opening day every one of those years except the final one. The only other Tigers who started every one of those games were Lou Whitaker, Trammell and Morris. He hit .333 in both the 84 Series and 87 ALCS loss to the Twins. And he led the 82 Tigers with a .292 average, 92 runs, 179 hits and 13 triples. Herndon also hit a monstrous homer in the April 6, 1987 season opener off New York Yankees starter Dennis Rasmussen. It exploded off of the facing of the upper deck in dead center, well above the 440-foot sign at field level. It was one of the two hardest-hit balls Ive seen -- matching Reggie Jacksons 1971 All-Star Game launch off the light tower at Tiger Stadium. On Oct. 4, 1987, Herndon hit a solo homer off Blue Jays starter Jimmy Key to give Frank Tanana all he needed for a 1-0 win that clinched the division on the final day of the season in a showdown game. He hit his share of very big home runs. He provides his share of very big smiles. Larry Herndon could win you games and warm your heart. Still does.
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