SABR

Scott Earl

This article was written by Kent Ailsworth, Chuck Ailsworth, and Carl Shinkle.

From September 10 through September 30, 1984, Scott Earl appeared in 14 games for the Detroit Tigers. In those games, he played in some of the now-gone classic ballparks of the American League: parks like Yankee Stadium in New York, County Stadium in Milwaukee, and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, for and against Hall of Fame managers, witnessed the batting championship, and played against future Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr. He was also part of a team about to win its first World Series in nearly a generation.

In Earl’s debut, on September 10, the visiting Detroit Tigers were losing to the defending world champions from 1983, the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore finished the season as one of only two teams with a winning record against the Tigers (the other was the Boston Red Sox). On the mound for the Orioles was former Cy Young Award winner Mike Flanagan. Up to that point, all three of Flanagan’s starts against Detroit that season had been complete games in which he allowed a total of three earned runs. In 1984 Flanagan was one of two pitchers to win three games against Detroit, with his only loss coming in a 1-0 game.

During this game, Flanagan was cruising into the eighth inning, leading 2-1 and having allowed just four hits. Other than Kirk Gibson’s solo home run in the fourth inning, the Tigers were looking pretty harmless. After Marty Castillo flied out to lead off the eighth, Rusty Kuntz came in to pinch-hit. The ever-optimistic Sparky Anderson had already promised a rookie, fresh from Evansville, a pinch-running major-league debut if Kuntz could get on. Rusty came through, doing what no other Tiger had yet accomplished in the game: he drew a walk. Scott Earl, wearing No. 24 on his uniform, officially became a major-leaguer as he ran for Kuntz.

Baltimore’s first baseman was future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who was well on his way to winning his third consecutive Gold Glove award. Earl recalled of his debut 25 years later: “Sparky said if Rusty got on I was going to pinch-run and the steal sign would be if [coach] Roger Craig put his arm over the top of the bench seats. Eddie Murray was playing first and wouldn’t shut up. So I told him I was kind of busy and couldn’t talk.” Whatever Craig might have done with his arm, Earl remained stranded on first as Barbaro Garbey and Alan Trammell made outs peacefully to end the inning. Earl stayed in the game at second base and had a great view of one of Murray’s 504 career home runs in the bottom of the eighth inning as Flanagan’s Orioles went on to win 3-1. The game ended before Scott got a chance to bat.

William Scott Earl was born on September 18, 1960, in Seymour, Indiana, a small town about 65 miles south of Indianapolis, to Bill and Doris Earl. He was one of three children; there were two daughters, Sherri and Sandy. Earl went to college about 150 miles away at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, where he played varsity baseball. He set the Colonels’ record for most consecutive games hit safely, at 27.

Earl, who went by the first name of Scott to differentiate himself from his same-named father, was playing for Danville in the Central Illinois Collegiate League in 1981 when the Detroit Tigers selected him in the 14th round (353rd pick) of the June amateur draft. Earl recalled in 2009, “My father called me late one night after a game to inform me the Tigers drafted me. I was both relieved and nervous knowing I was to talk to the Tigers the next day about a contract. [My] friends and family were all excited and proud.”

Earl started playing in the Detroit organization in 1981 on the lowest rung of the Organized Baseball ladder. He began with the Bristol (Virginia) Tigers in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Scott said, “I started the first game over two other second basemen. I think it was in Johnson City and I went 1-for-3.” In 52 games that season, he had 47 hits, including three home runs. He batted .260 and stole 13 bases without being caught.

In 1982 Earl moved up to the Tigers’ Lakeland affiliate in the Class A Florida State League. In 136 games he had 133 hits with 12 home runs, and batted .287. He made the all-star team, leading the league’s second basemen in total chances (742), putouts (292), and double plays (96), and he showcased his speed with 34 steals.

Earl moved up to Double-A ball in 1983, playing for Birmingham in the Southern League. In 144 games he had 138 hits, including ten triples, ten home runs, and a .261 batting average. He led Birmingham with 36 steals, was named to the Southern League’s All-Star team, and was rated the league’s best defensive second baseman by Baseball America.

In 1984 Earl climbed to the top of the minor-league ladder with his promotion to Triple-A Evansville of the American Association. He played in 153 games for the Triplets and batted .251 with 134 hits, eight triples, and 11 home runs. He tied for the league lead with 77 walks. His fielding once more won raves as he led the league’s second basemen in games (137), putouts (277), assists (423), total chances (721), and double plays (105). He was named to the American Association and Topps/National Association Triple-A Team. After consulting with the league’s managers, Baseball America named him the fastest baserunner in the American Association.

Earl’s 1984 numbers, along with his range and slick fielding, drew attention in Detroit. At the time of his debut, Kirk Gibson was leading Detroit with 26 stolen bases, and the Tigers as a team swiped 106 bases by season’s end. No doubt Earl’s 41 steals had a lot to do with his breaking in as a pinch-runner.

After his big-league debut, Earl made three additional appearances in the field as a late-inning replacement for Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker, but got no at-bats. At Tiger Stadium on his 24th birthday, September 18, the Tigers clinched the American League East title for the first time since 1972, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers. Earl remembered in 2009: “There was a lot of celebrating in the clubhouse and plans to party afterwards. Sparky told me I was starting the next day so I went home” early. On September 19, Earl finally got his first start. He led off for the Tigers, and his first at-bat, in the first inning, resulted in a fly out to right field. He batted again in the second and connected for a triple off the Brewers’ Tom Candiotti, driving in Doug Baker for the Tigers’ third run. “After the triple. Alex Grammas got the ball for me and Rusty Kuntz wrote the info on it,” Earl recalled. Jack Morris and a lineup of Tigers rookies and backups beat the Brewers, 4-2.

A week later, in Milwaukee, Earl tried his hand at larceny against the Brewers with his first stolen-base attempt. Gold Glove winner Cecil Cooper was playing first base, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton was on the mound, and six-time Gold Glove winner Jim Sundberg was behind the plate. Sundberg was the only American League catcher in 1984 to throw out at least half of those trying to steal on him. The undaunted Tiger rookie pilfered second and scored on a single by Nelson Simmons.

The Tigers clinching the division was the highlight of Earl’s 1984 season. Other memorable moments for him included “seeing [Cal] Ripken playing in my first major-league game and being a part of [Don] Mattingly winning the batting title over [Dave] Winfield.” In Mattingly’s final at-bat of the season, he hit a ball far to Earl’s left, between first and second base. Scott got to the ball, but it took a bad hop over his glove and was ruled a hit. Earl recalled that Mattingly “later said he didn’t think I would get near it.” Winfield, batting next in the Yankees order, could no longer catch Mattingly for the title and hit into a force out in his final at-bat. Mattingly took the AL batting title, .343, to Winfield’s .340. Had Earl’s play been ruled an error and a still-hopeful Winfield had followed up with a hit, the results would have been different, with Winfield winning the title, .3422 to 3416.

Earl’s top two personal triumphs in baseball were the triple off Candiotti, and his performance in another Tigers-Yankees game. On September 29, the Tigers were looking for win number 104 to pass the 1968 Tigers for the team’s most wins in a season. Pitching for the Yankees was former Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry. Earl had two hits that day as the team set the record with its 11-3 triumph.

Earl started at second base for eight of his 14 Tigers games. He had four hits (three singles and the triple) in 35 at-bats. He scored three runs, stole one base, and drove in one run. In the field, Scott had a .959 fielding average and was involved in nine double plays, three with Trammell. After the World Series, he became one of only 35 who could claim they played for the 1984 world champions. Having joined the team after September 1, Earl was not eligible for the postseason roster.

Tigers reliever Bill Scherrer, who joined the club in August 1984, accidentally discovered that there were three different types of World Series rings given by the Tigers. According to Scherrer, once this discovery was made, everybody on the team got their rings appraised. The low-end rings were worth about $80 to $250, and the high-end rings about $3,000. Scherrer found out frontline players received the top rings, followed by “scouts and people like that,” with partial-playoff-share players getting the low-end rings. Even so, Scherrer said his ring would never be sold. It also meant a lot to Scherrer when he heard that Jack Morris no longer always wore his ring once he found out about the three grades. (Years later, as a scout with Cincinnati in 1990, Scherrer got his high-end World Series ring.)

Yet there was an even lower run on the ladder; Earl never got a World Series ring from the Tigers. Asked about it. he said, “I never understood why we all didn’t get rings. I had someone tell me that he researched the ten previous [to 1984] World Series champs and the ten following World Series champs and (all) those organizations gave every player rings who played on either their 25- or 40-man roster as long as they actually were on the team at some point. … I heard the grounds crew guy in Lakeland even got a ring. … Oh, well, it goes that way sometimes.” (He did not put in a bid on Doug Baker's ring, which was put up for auction on eBay in 2010.) About the same time as the ring fiasco was taking place, baseball card manufacturer Donruss produced a 1985 card (#491) of a “promising young second baseman” by the name of Scottie Earl.

As a middle infielder, Earl’s path was blocked on the Tigers by Whitaker at second and Alan Trammell at shortstop. Both players were All-Stars and Gold Glove winners. Earl remembered, “It was enjoyable watching them play, but it was frustrating seeing probably ten or twelve second basemen in the league I could beat out.” His 1984 Triple-A statistics compared with the American League numbers of the 62 players who appeared at second base in the American League that season would have placed him eighth in hits, fifth in homers and RBIs, and second in steals.

So making the 1985 Tigers as an infielder would be no easy task with Whitaker and Trammell guaranteed starting jobs. In addition, a very capable Tom Brookens could fill in for them. Also, a surprise was in store for Earl and the Tigers that spring. The 1985 Sports Illustrated annual scouting report summed it up best:

“Howard Johnson went to the Mets for pitcher Walt Terrell, but [Sparky] Anderson has seen fit to replace him with rookie [Chris] Pittaro, who is replacing Whitaker, who returns to second to replace Pittaro, who was replacing Whitaker in the first place.

“‘As the Infield Turns,’ in the words of [Lance] Parrish, began when Anderson fell in love with Pittaro, a second baseman who hit .284 at Class AA Birmingham last year. The manager decided that because Whitaker would eventually be his third baseman, it was the ideal time switch, a move, he said, that was ‘etched in stone.’ But when Whitaker had second thoughts about playing third, the experiment ended after five days. ‘From now on, all my moves will be etched in Jell-O,’ says Anderson.”

Sparky was known for predicting greatness from unproven talent. Long before poor Pittaro, Kirk Gibson -- no slouch himself -- was going to be Sparky’s next Mickey Mantle, and, years later, Torey Lovullo would have to carry a similar burden. Scott said in 2009, “I thought I would make the [1985] team until Sparky went nuts over Chris Pittaro.” The gifted Hall of Fame manager, like Earl, also played second base and after just one season in the big leagues, neither ever got a second chance. Yet, as numerous other Reds and Tigers declared before him, Earl had to agree, “I enjoyed playing for Sparky.”

In 1985, Pittaro lasted just 28 games at third base before Brookens took over. The Tigers then picked up 10-year veteran Doug Flynn from the Montreal Expos as Whitaker’s backup. Flynn, who had been a starting second baseman the previous seven seasons, usually got to watch Whitaker, who played in 152 of the 162 scheduled games.

Scott Earl spent all of 1985 with the Tigers’ new Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. He batted .236, hit seven home runs, drove in 44 runs while scoring 55, and stole 23 bases. He led American Association second basemen in games played with 118 and putouts (263). Former 1984 Tigers Doug Baker, Dave Bergman, Rusty Kuntz, Mike Laga, Dwight Lowry, Sid Monge, Randy O’Neal, and Nelson Simmons were teammates of Earl in Nashville at one time or another that season -- as was Pittaro.

In 1986, Earl again played for Nashville. He appeared in 128 games and batted .239, with 97 hits, eight home runs, 41 RBI, and 30 stolen bases. He saw time at various infield positions and also played in the outfield.

1n 1986, for the first time in his career, Earl also pitched an inning of professional baseball. Reminiscing about his relief stint, he said, “Now my pitching appearance I could talk all day about. I had been pestering my manager all year long to let me pitch just one inning. Finally, we were on the end of a long road trip, Omaha, Des Moines, Denver, and finally Oklahoma City. Our relievers were spent, we were getting hammered by Oklahoma City, so Leon Roberts, our manager, asked me if I wanted to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning. So I went to the bullpen all excited. I had nasty stuff, breaking ball was sharp, for a person that had never pitched before, even in high school. [I] had a little change going, and my fastball was smoking hot, probably around 78 miles per hour. So my time had come, I went to the mound in front of about 20,000 fans.

“Brian Harper was the catcher. He came to the mound and said, ‘What pitch is working for you?’ I said my breaking ball was on fire. He said ‘Let’s start this guy off with one he will never expect, a first-pitch breaking ball from a shortstop that has never pitched before.’ So Jeff Kunkel steps to the plate, Brian put down the three sign, I wind up, threw him my nastiest breaker and he promptly hits it about 500 feet over the left-field wall. Next batter, Manny Mota’s son [Jose], I had him 0-2. He later said he was scared to death I was going to strike him out. I walked him. Next batter, Jim Maler. I looked at my left fielder and, no kidding; he was standing about two feet from the foul line on the warning track. Maler hit a rocket right to him. Tim Tolman didn’t have to take a step. The ball was hit so hard it didn’t get four feet off the ground. So I walk the next batter and the next gets a base hit. It was hit so hard I thought it was going to kill our second baseman, Pedro Chavez. By now my legs are Jell-O. Tommy Dunbar came to the plate and promptly hits one about 550 feet over the left-field wall. He hit it over a waterbed sign and the deal was if an 89ers player did that he won a free waterbed. I never let Tommy forget he owed me. The last out was an absolute rocket to Doug Baker at short. So that is my pitching career. I never did ask to pitch again.” In all, he gave up four runs, for a career earned-run average of 36.00.

In 1987, the Tigers won another Eastern Division title. However, Earl spent the entire season in Toledo. The International League Toledo Mud Hens had replaced Nashville as the Tigers’ top farm team. Earl’s playing time decreased as he shared starting duties with younger players like Jim Walewander. Scott still played in 89 games, batted .246, had four home runs and 33 RBIs and swiped 12 bases.

In 1988 Earl was back in Nashville, but by now it was a Cincinnati Reds affiliate. He played in 113 games and hit .239. In 1989 he split time between Toledo again and Columbus, the Yankees’ International League affiliate. Between the two, Earl played in 89 games and had a .231 batting average with three home runs.

Of the Tigers-to-Reds-to-Tigers-to-Yankees shuttle, Earl said: “The Reds were trying to trade for me for years, according to them when I got there, but the Tigers wouldn’t ‘give me up.’ So when I became a six-year minor-league free agent they called me and invited me to big-league spring training. With one week to go in spring training, I had already been sent down to Triple-A, the manager pulled me out of a game in the fourth inning telling me I was flying out the next day with the big-league team. A spot opened up because Buddy Bell was going on the disabled list. I flew to Cincinnati excited that I made the team. I had a great spring training with them. We played two exhibition games with Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals. Monday morning was Opening Day in Cincinnati, and I got a phone call from the traveling secretary saying Buddy Bell was refusing to go on the disabled list, leaving us with 26 men on the roster, and I had to go back down to Triple-A. The next year, I was released in spring training by the Reds and went home to Indy. A couple of weeks later, the Tigers called and wanted to re-sign me because Lou Whitaker hurt his knee dancing at a wedding reception. They called up Torey Lovullo and they wanted me to fill his spot in Toledo. Figures. I played behind Lou for six years and he never got hurt, I leave for 1½ years and he hurts himself dancing. Anyway, I got traded to the Yankees and Bucky Dent’s Columbus Clippers later that year. My whole career, I always put it on the Yankees for some reason, always played my best against them. [I] finished out my career with them.”

Before the 1990 season, Earl recalled, “I was called by the Toronto Blue Jays, but they said I had no shot at making the team or even going to the major-league camp. I was living with my wife-to-be in Indy and I had just had enough of Triple-A, so I said no and shut it down.” Scott’s professional baseball career was over. He had played in 1,029 minor-league games, the last 697 of them at the Triple-A level. His minor-league totals included 3,352 at-bats, 844 hits, 58 home runs, and a .252 batting average. Earl played the majority of his minor-league career at second base, appearing in 786 games at second, 128 at short, 56 at third, 49 in the outfield, and one game each at first base and on the mound. His speed helped account for 210 stolen bases and 528 runs scored.

After his baseball career ended, Earl and his wife had two daughters, Jordan and Jesse. He stayed in Indianapolis and took a job as a sales representative for Westfield Steel. In remembering his playing days in a 2008 e-mail exchange, Earl said, “Baseball was a very important part of my life growing up. As with any sport, it teaches competitiveness, teamwork, discipline, and dedication -- all important things one needs in life in general.” He added, “Baseball has changed for me from being a professional player to a fan of the sport in general. I appreciate the game because it played a significant part of molding me to the person I am today.” He has some fond memories from his time as a Detroit Tiger. “I liked Darrell Evans, Larry Herndon, Billy Consolo, Alan Trammell, and the clubhouse guy, Jim Schmakel. ... I still keep in touch with six or seven minor- and major-league friends on a regular basis.” And in case anyone was curious, Earl declared: “Favorite team? Of course, the Detroit Tigers.”

 

Acknowledgements

Annalisa Ailsworth, Tom Lyons, Ray Schmekel.

 

Sources

Publications

Beckett, Dr. James, Baseball Card Alphabetical Checklist #11. Dallas: Beckett Media LP. 2005.

Campbell, Dave, Denny Mathews, Brooks Robinson, and Duke Snider. The Scouting Report: 1985. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1985.

Craig, Roger, with Vern Plaegenhoef. Inside Pitch. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans. 1984

Detroit Free Press. The Roar of ’84. Detroit: Detroit Free Press. 1984.

Detroit Tigers. World Champion Detroit Tigers. Detroit: Detroit Tigers.1985.

Detroit Tigers. 1986: The Year of The Detroit Tigers. Detroit: Detroit Tigers. 1986.

Detroit Tigers. 1987 Detroit Tigers Press, TV & Radio Guide. Detroit: Detroit Tigers. 1987.

Detroit Tigers. 1988 Detroit Tigers Press, TV & Radio Guide. Detroit: Detroit Tigers. 1988.

Detroit Tigers. The Press Guide! 1989. Detroit: Detroit Tigers. 1989

Detroit Tigers. 1990 Press Guide. Detroit: Detroit Tigers. 1990.

Gillette, Gary, and Pete Palmer. The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, 4th ed. New York: Sterling. 2007.

Hollander, Zander. 1985 The Complete Handbook of Baseball, 15th ed. New York: American Library. 1985.

Major League Baseball. World Series 1984 Media Guide & Scorebook. New York: Major League Baseball. 1984.

Neft, David S., Richard M. Cohen, and Michael L. Neft. The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball 2007, 27th ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2007.

Paladino, Larry, ed. Detroit Tigers 1984 Yearbook. Detroit: Gaylord Printing Co. 1984.

Paladino, Larry, ed. Detroit Tigers 1985 Yearbook. Warren, Michigan: Paladino Publications. 1985.

Pattison, Mark, and David Raglin, eds. Sock It to ’Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers. Hanover, Mass.: Maple Street Press. 2008.

Pietrusza, David, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman. Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia. Kingston, New York: Total Sports Publishing. 2000.

Smith, Fred T. Tiger S.T.A.T.S. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Momentum Books. 1991.

Thorn, John, Pete Palmer, and Michael Gershman. Total Baseball, 7th ed. Kingston, New York: Total Sports Publishing. 2000.

Zaret, Eli, ’84: Last of the Great Tigers. South Boardman, Michigan: Crofton Creek Press. 2004.

Articles

“A Whole New Lineup.” Sports Illustrated, April 15, 1985.

Downey, Mike. “The Word According to Sparky.” Inside Sports, April 1985.

MacLean, Norman. “AL Previews.” Baseball Preview, Volume 7, 1985.

Snyder, Bob. “Minor Leagues.” Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbook, 1985.

Tully, Mike. “Don Mattingly: Yankee With a Sweet Swing.” Major League Baseball Yearbook ’85. 1985.

Websites

http://www.baseball-almanac.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com

http://www.retrosheet.org

http://www.thebaseballcube.com

Other

Earl, Scott. E-mail to Kent Ailsworth, October 2009.

Earl, Scott. E-mail to Carl Shinkle, August 2008.

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