Walt Terrell: A Detroit pitcher for seven years, a Tiger for life

When I learned that I would have a chance to chat with former Detroit Tigers pitcher Walt Terrell, I was mulling in my mind where he fit in on the rotation in 1984 when the Tigers won the world championship.

I knew Jack Morris was the ace with an early-season no-hitter under his belt with Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox following Morris in the rotation. Then my mind hit a wall and I had to look it up.

Oops, Terrell didn’t show up until 1985. The 1984 rotation also included Dave Rozema and, at times, Juan Berenguer.

Terrell was part of a 1985 rotation that included Morris, Petry Frank Tanana and, at times, Berenguer and Randy O’Neal.

Before Friday night’s West Michigan Whitecaps’ game, the final “Tiger Night” of the 2013 season, Terrell chatted about his 11-year career that included two separate stints (and seven years) with the Tigers.

“When people have asked me about the different places I have played, I tell them Tigers’ fans were unique,” Terrell said. “I’ve always enjoyed the fun and the interaction with them.”

In his 11 seasons, which began in 1982 with the New York Mets, Terrell fashioned a 111-124 record with a 4.22 earned run average. With Detroit, Terrell was 79-76 and 4.26.

“I’m not sure (the 1985 staff) compares with this year’s Tigers,” Terrell responded to a question. “This group (with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibel Sanchez and Rick Porcello) throws a whole lot harder than we ever did. That’s very tough to hit.

“Don’t get me wrong, our guys were pretty good, but these guys are awfully, awfully good.”

Terrell did not express any regrets about joining moving to Detroit a year after the championship celebration.

“I’m happy the ’84 Tigers won and I wish the ’84 Mets could have won,” Terrell said. “But my career was what it was and I’m happy. I’m one of the most fortunate people to have walked the face of the earth.”

Oh, there were some highlights.

“My first day in the big leagues when I joined the Mets, without a doubt, is a highlight,” Terrell said with a wistful look of longing on his face. “We were in St. Louis. That’s probably the biggest one.”

He also remembers his first start, but it might not necessarily qualify as a “highlight.”

“The first game I pitched was against the Cardinals in St. Louis,” he recalled. “I can’t remember every pitch, but I remember the first six because they were all balls. (Laughing). I remember thinking if I didn’t throw a strike, there might not be a seventh pitch.

“I hit two homes runs in Chicago (Wrigley Field) one day, so that would probably be a third.”

We should also note that Terrell only had one other career home run. He had a career batting average of .120 (23 for 192).

When he was reminded that he gave up the very first of Mark McGwire’s 583 career home runs (Milwaukee’s Rocky Coppinger gave up the last, in case anyone cares), Terrell laughed.

“The younger guys all remember stuff like that,” he said. “But I hit a few other bats, too (187 total, to be exact).”

He was at his comedic best when asked to compare pitchers of today with those of his generation.

“Look at them,” he said, pointing towards the Whitecaps’ bullpen. “The ones I saw out here earlier today are all about three to four inches taller than I am (Terrell is 6-2, 205), their arms are about six inches longer than mine and none of them have beer guts.” 

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