This article was written by John McMurray
Although Marty Castillo appeared in only 70 games for the 1984 Detroit Tigers, he is best remembered for his clutch postseason production. Not only did Castillo knock in the winning run to clinch the pennant in the third game of the American League Championship Series, but he also put the Tigers ahead to stay in Game Three of the World Series with a home run. After that homer, Sports Illustrated put his accomplishment in context, saying: “Gionfriddo, Larsen, Drabowsky, Weis, Doyle, Bevacqua. … To the list of unlikely Series heroes, add the name Marty Castillo.”
The 1984 season was Castillo’s best in the major leagues. He set personal highs in almost every major offensive category – modest as they were — while serving as a valuable defensive substitute at both catcher (36 games) and third base (33 games). Those offensive numbers included a .234 batting average, 33 hits — 11 of them for extra bases — and 17 RBIs. On August 26, 1984, Castillo went 3-for-4 and scored three runs in a victory over the Los Angeles Angels. On September 23, he went 2-for-3 with a home run and 2 RBIs to help the Tigers win their 100th game of the season, a 4-1 victory over the New York Yankees.
Still, devoted fans of the team may recall Castillo more for his outgoing nature and for his reputation as a practical joker than for what he did on the field. (His reputation as a prankster goes back to his childhood, when, at the age of 4, he accidentally set his family’s house on fire and burned the place down.)
In Game Three of the 1984 Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, Castillo drove in Chet Lemon when he grounded into a force out at second base in the second inning. The Royals tried to turn a double play that would have negated Lemon’s run. But Castillo, hardly a speedster, beat the relay to first. Castillo’s RBI turned out to be the only run the Tigers scored off Kansas City Royals starter Charlie Leibrandt, who lost 1-0 despite pitching a complete game. Castillo also went 2-for-4 in Game One, with another RBI to his credit.
Castillo continued with his timely offense in the World Series. In Game Three, with the Tigers and the San Diego Padres at one win apiece, Castillo came to bat against Padres starter Tim Lollar in the second inning with Lemon on base and the game scoreless. He drove a 1-2 pitch into the left-field seats at Tiger Stadium to give his team a lead in the game that it did not relinquish. Writing about the game, Detroit News sportswriter Tom Gage wrote, “[Castillo is] Sparky Anderson’s version of the Mickey Stanley move of 1968 [when manager Mayo Smith moved the outfielder to shortstop for the World Series], maybe not as daring, but so far as successful.” Howard Johnson had played the lion’s share of innings at third base in 1984, but manager Anderson lost confidence in him near season’s end. Tom Brookens, who always seemed to be battling to hold on to his job at the hot corner, may have been too injured to play regularly, making just two brief appearances in the American League Championship Series and three in the World Series. Darrell Evans and rookie Barbaro Garbey, who had also played third for Detroit in ’84, actually had put in more time at first base and were being relied on by Sparky, along with Dave Bergman, in a first base/designated hitter/pinch hitter rotation. That left Castillo, and he responded.
The day after Game Three, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote, “The night’s recipient of the Kurt Bevacqua Award is: Marty Castillo of the Tigers. There are probably people related to Castillo that don’t know he’s playing in the Series these days. That didn’t keep the No. 9 batter, whose usual position is ‘bench,’ from hitting a game-winning, two-run homer.”
Castillo modestly pointed out that he did not celebrate as effusively as Bevacqua did when he homered to beat the Tigers in Game Two. “Marty Castillo isn’t Kurt Bevacqua,” Castillo said. “Bevacqua has been around. He’s established. I could just see myself doing that and (Goose) Gossage knocking me upside the head the next time I came to the plate. It’s not my personality to do something like that.”
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said Castillo “hit the ball a lot harder than Bevacqua did. He nailed it.” Yet Castillo was more modest in summing up the biggest moment of his career: “[Lollar] just happened to throw a fastball and hit my bat where I was swinging it. He made a mistake pitch, and I’m supposed to hit mistakes. It’s as simple as that.”
In Game Five, Castillo walked in the eighth inning and was on base when Kirk Gibson hit the iconic three-run homer that sealed the game, and the Series, for Detroit. For the World Series, Castillo batted .333 (3-for-9) with a .455 on-base percentage and a .667 slugging percentage, with two runs scored, a pair of walks, and two RBIs from his own memorable home run.
Martin Horace Castillo was born on January 16, 1957, in Long Beach, California. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1975 and by the California Angels in 1977, but chose to attend Chapman College (now University) in Orange, California. Selected by the Tigers in the fifth round of the amateur draft in 1978, he signed with the team and spent 1978 through 1983 making his way through the Tigers’ farm system. He started with Class A Lakeland, spent part of a season at Double-A Montgomery, and was at Triple-A Evansville for five seasons, with two short spells with the Tigers.
Castillo appeared with Detroit for six games in 1981 — he made his major-league debut on August 19 against the Minnesota Twins, starting at third base. He appeared in one game in 1982, then stuck with the team in 1983. But with Tom Brookens as the team’s regular third baseman — more often than not, anyway — Castillo quickly assumed a role as a backup, taking occasional turns at third base and catcher.
Castillo hit his first major-league home run on June 28, 1983, against Milwaukee’s Jim Slaton, and it put the Tigers ahead 5-4 in the top of the ninth inning in a game Detroit held on to win. The win put the Tigers into a three-way tie for first place in the American League East. “It’s the best feeling of my whole life,” said Castillo, who had been called up from Evansville only eight days before.
Yet Castillo was mostly valued for his defense. In May 1984, Gene Guidi of the Detroit Free Press commented that “[Castillo’s] versatility puts [Anderson] at ease just about anywhere on the field. He’s the perfect insurance policy. Most games, Castillo sits in the Tigers dugout and roots for pals like Tom Brookens or Howard Johnson to come up with a big hit or defensive gem. He knows that he’ll play only if a teammate is hurt or needs a day off.
“My wife (Julie) and I were discussing my situation the other day and I told her that I love Brookie and HoJo (Howard Johnson) and can’t pull for them not to do well just so I get a chance to play more,” Castillo said. “When they’re out there, I hope they hit a home run or make a diving stop. … And I take a lot of pride in being ready in case they need me.”
Castillo worked with former Tigers catcher Bill Freehan to improve his own skills behind the plate. Early in the 1984 season, Castillo conceded that he could get rusty when he did not catch for a while, which may explain his five errors at the position during that season. Still, Anderson endorsed Castillo wholeheartedly: “He can play first, third and catch, and that makes him very valuable,” Sparky said. “Guys like Castillo will always help good teams. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to help a bad team that couldn’t use him right, but good teams always have a player or two like Marty.”
Popular with his teammates, Castillo was praised for his skills in playing “toss” with them in pregame warmups. Detroit News writer Gary Santaniello called him “the Tigers’ funkmaster of the sidelines,” and first baseman Mike Laga claimed that “Marty’s got it all: knuckle-curve, forkball, knuckler. His fastball’s a little straight, though.” Still, teammate Nelson Simmons was impressed with Castillo’s ability, saying: “Some pitchers can’t throw that good.”
Castillo even appeared in a Detroit-area commercial for Little Caesars Pizza, expressing mock outrage that he was not included among the star players who were pictured on commemorative glasses offered by the chain. According to Sports Illustrated: “[Castillo] is an outgoing practical joker, one of the more popular Tigers. He’s so nice that Tom Monaghan, owner of the club and Domino’s Pizza, doesn’t object to Castillo’s endorsing Little Caesars Pizza. When asked if the [World Series] home run might open the door to more commercial opportunities, Castillo said, ‘I’m not going to worry about it. But my new phone number is …’”
Castillo played in five seasons with the Tigers, and had to struggle to make the team every year. When he heard about the large bonuses that teammates had in their contracts, he cracked: “I’ve got an attendance clause in my contract, too. It kicks in when the team draws two billion people.” The right-handed-throwing, right-handed-hitting Castillo played in 201 games for the Tigers over the five seasons, never more than 70 in a season, batting .190 with 8 home runs and 32 RBIs. It may be to some a dubious distinction, but Castillo made the cut in Al Pepper’s book Mendoza’s Heroes: Fifty Batters Below .200, which chronicled the career exploits of — in Pepper’s estimation — the 50 best position players whose career batting average fell below the mythical “Mendoza line,” named after Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Texas infielder Mario Mendoza, who had five sub-.200 seasons at the plate, including four in a five-year span.
In a 2001 article in the Detroit News, Castillo was asked about his toughest moment in the big leagues. He replied, “It happened in Kansas City. The players threw grasshoppers all over me.” But tougher times were in store. After being released by Detroit on January 16, 1986, on his 29th birthday, Castillo had hoped to get another chance in major-league baseball. At the time of his release, he was playing winter ball for the Escogido Leones in the Dominican Republic. The day before, Castillo had filed for salary arbitration and was upset at the Tigers’ offer of only a modest salary increase, leading him to request his release.
“Actually, it’s not the money,” said Castillo. “What I really want is the chance to get more than one at-bat in a five-week period.” Castillo had been on the All-Star team in the Dominican Republic, where he was an exceedingly popular player. “Maybe I’ll retire. Maybe I’ll open a shack down here and sell conch shells,” He cracked. Within hours of Castillo’s release, the Tigers traded for Dave Engle from the Minnesota Twins to take Castillo’s spot on the roster as the team’s backup catcher. It turned out to be a bust, as Engle caught only three games in a season when regular catcher Lance Parrish was hampered with back miseries. Dwight Lowry, Mike Heath, and Matt Nokes each caught more games than Engle, while Castillo landed a job with the Minnesota Twins’ top farm club in Toledo for his last season in professional baseball. Castillo didn’t get behind the plate at all for the Mud Hens, instead playing third base and the outfield.
After leaving baseball, Castillo kept a low profile. A 2006 Detroit Free Press article reported that he owned a place called the Upper Deck in Cape Coral, Florida, which was run by his wife, Shelly LaPaglia; they had a son together named A.J. But even that wispy trail vanishes. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press were unable to locate him when they published more recent retrospectives about the team, and the Tigers themselves were not able to provide any information about his whereabouts. His missing-in-action status spawned at least one likely tall story about his activities — that Castillo was in Malaysia managing a local baseball team called the Tioman Tsunamis on Tioman Island, a small volcanic island in the South China Sea with a predominantly Muslim population. The legend was first posted on Wikipedia, and others were citing the online reference service as the source for the story, but Wikipedia’s editors retracted the assertion from Castillo’s biography on the site when no independent verification could be found.
Detroit News. The Magic Season. Indianapolis: News Books International, 1984.
Boswell, Thomas, “Two-Run Homer Wins for Tigers,” Washington Post, October 13, 1984, F1.
Bragg, Brian, “Tigers Win on Castillo HR,” Detroit Free Press, July 29, 1983.
Guidi, Gene, “Ability, Wit Make Castillo Popular,” Detroit Free Press, May 13, 1984, 1D.
Macnow, Glen, “Castillo Has Lots of Fans But No Job,” Detroit Free Press, January 20, 1986, 1D.
Santaniello, Gary, “Castillo Crowned King of the Toss,” Detroit News, May 29, 1985, 1D.
Vincent, Charlie, “Utility Man Proves Useful at Plate,” Detroit Free Press, October 13, 1984, 1D.
Wulf, Steve. “Detroit Jumped All Over ’Em: The Tigers Leaped to the Fore in Every Game as They Bounded Past the Padres to Win the 81st World Series,” Sports Illustrated, October 22, 1984. (Available online at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/features/1997/wsarchive/1984.html).