Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brad Havens Made Tiger Stadium History, Too

Like most Detroiters who've held a clean, white baseball in their hands as a child, Brad Havens dreamed of playing big league baseball in Tiger Stadium. On June 5, 1981, Havens did. He was the starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins. Six days after Havens made his major league debut at the stadium he dreamed of playing in, the players' union ordered a strike that lasted 53 days and marred the '81 campaign.

Brad Havens watched the Detroit Tigers play at Tiger Stadium hundreds, if not thousands of times as a child and teen. He was born in Highland Park, Michigan and played baseball on Detroit's suburban sandlots. He prepped at Royal Oak's Kimball High.

One of the few players among the many big leaguers who hail from metro Detroit to have made their debut at the stadium, Havens' story sticks with me because its the kind of memory that should be kept alive instead of becoming a parking lot or armory or high-rise project. I've made a big deal of Tiger Stadium's deconstruction. Her ungraceful demise doesn't sit well with me because of the park's unique place in our region's professional and prep sports past. The last 10 years as it relates to Tiger Stadium have revealed yet another sad chapter about Detroit's political machine and the 'Can't-Do' attitude entrenched in metro Detroit. We let Tiger Stadium molder and fall, pull down the picturesque Statler Hotel, allow the grandiose Michigan Central Depot to become a hulking eyesore and yet, for reasons no one can explain, the Book-Cadillac Hotel at Michigan and Washington is granted the needed liquidity to be resurrected and spared from death row, scheduled to soon shine again.

Havens was an All-State, southpaw pitcher at Kimball. He wore No. 26 for the Knights in the ugliest uniforms imaginable and formed a powerful 1-2 pitching punch with righthander Dave Kopf for coach Frank Clouser. He hurled a no-hitter in the 1977 playoffs before high school baseball was about inflated stats, unbelievable numbers and parents keeping scoresheets that are anything but legitimate. Back then a no-hitter in a district game from Oakland County was a big deal. Bob Welch was from Hazel Park. Kirk Gibson was at Waterford Kettering. Steve Howe was pitching for Clarkston. Oakland County had talent.

Before his graduation ceremony had taken place, Havens was drafted on June 7 by the California Angels in the 8th round of the '77 amateur player's draft. Less than two years later, Havens and fellow Angels Ken Landreaux, Dave Engel and Paul Hartzell were traded to the Twins for Rod Carew.

How many Oakland County prep players can say they were traded for a Hall-Of-Famer like Rod Carew? I'll bet the list is short.

Fast forward to 1981, like a scene from the movie The Rookie, Havens is tabbed to make his debut at The Corner. His prep coach, Frank Clouser, is there along with nearly a thousand fans from Royal Oak who, like Havens, found themselves rooting for the visitors for the first time at Tiger Stadium. A farm boy from pint-size Colfax, Indiana, Clouser was from a town that could have been the real-life studio double for the fictitious Hickory in the movie Hoosiers. In fact, Clouser bought his first insurance policy from Bobby Plump, the motivation for the character Jimmy Chitwood in Hoosiers. The first time he ever witnessed a major league game was in the 1960s, when he traveled from Indiana to Detroit to watch the Tigers sweep a twin bill from the New York Yankees in front of a raucous, sold-out Tiger Stadium.

It's safe to assume both Havens and Clouser can remember this night at the stadium for all that it represented to both of them for the rest of their natural-born lives.

As far as the game went, Havens did himself proud. Havens was opposed by nasty Jack Morris, who was tabbed to start that season's All-Star Game in Cleveland, a game that set MLB's All-Star Game attendance record of 72,086. Morris knew a thing or two about making a memorable debut for a different reason -- he was tabbed as a last-minute replacement for Mark "The Bird" Fidrych as a rookie, and when Morris was announced as the starting pitcher, he was lustily booed by the huge crowd -- because he wasn't Fidrych.

With umpire Larry McCoy calling balls and strikes and Butch Wynegar catching, Havens retired the first hitter he faced, outfielder Lynn Jones, before shortstop Alan Trammell singled. Havens promptly picked Trammell off first and got through the first five frames without much trouble. He fanned Kirk Gibson in the 3rd and got the Kettering grad to line out to first baseman Danny Goodwin to end the 5th.

In the sixth, with two outs and nobody on, Trammell golfed a Havens offering into the lower deck in left. Havens retired Steve Kemp to end the frame and was pulled after six innings trailing 1-0 after allowing one run and two hits in his debut. The Tigers would push across another run across in the 7th and earn a 2-0 decision in front of 23,133 at the stadium, a great crowd considering the last-place Twins and the 6th-place Tigers were anything but marquee attractions.

Havens pitched in eight uneventful seasons. He became a teammate of Kirk Gibson in 1988 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who voted Havens' a share of the players' winnings from the Dodgers' improbable 1988 World Series title. In 1989, Havens would become a teammate with Trammell when he signed with the Tigers on May 23rd of that season.He made the final appearance of his career against the team that drafted him, the Angels, on July 23, 1989 in a game that was Detroit's '89 season in a nutshell. The '89 Angels were fortified with ex-Bengals Dan Petry, Lance Parrish, Bill Schroeder and Rich Monteleone.

Holding a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 9th, Tiger closer Mike Henneman retired the first hitter but surrendered back-to-back singles to Dick Schofield and Claudell Washington. Brad Havens was summoned by manager Sparky Anderson to put out the fire. Havens allowed a single to Johnny Ray to score the tying run, walked Devon White to load the bases and then plunked Wally Joyner to plate the winning run in a walk-off, 5-4 win for California.

Havens made his major league debut with a last-place team in the stadium that housed his boyhood dreams and ended his career with his childhood team, also in last place, against the team that started his major league dreams.

One player, one story and one memorable stadium.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing.

(Topps baseball card image courtesy www.CheckOutMyCards.com)

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