There seems to be one player we remember from Spring Training or among the prospects growing up that sticks out. With that in mind, I am writing a series of articles of Detroit Tigers players who made headlines down in Lakeland but did not stick around in a Tigers uniform for too long. We start the series with first baseman Mike Laga.
“Mike Laga will make you forget about every power hitter that ever lived”-Sparky Anderson
If social media was around in the early 80s, the phrase “call him up” would be applied to Mike Laga. Laga was drafted in the first round of then January 1980 MLB Draft out of Bergen Community College in New Jersey. In his first season in Lakeland in 1980, Laga hit .273/.391/.425 with 12 HR and 74 RBIs. He had a stretch in July 1980 in which he went 11-for-21 (.524) that earned him FSL Player of the Week. That 1980 team featured a few names that Tigers fans are familiar with in Howard Johnson, Dwight Lowry, and Barbaro Garbey.
What would follow the next two seasons is what perhaps what Sparky saw. Laga had back to back 30 home run seasons in Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Nashville. He was named to the Southern League All-Star in ’81 and was rising up the Tigers depth chart. His 34 home runs at Evansville was a club record and the Tigers gave him a September call up 1982. He hit a respectful .261 with nine doubles and a pair of home runs. Heading into the off-season, he was the favorite to win the Opening Day spot in Spring Training.
“Laga will definitely have to improve on the off-speed pitches” Anderson said in September 1982. “but that’s just a matter of (of experience) of seeing off-speed stuff…and seeing it and seeing it. I will tell you this, though: They cant throw hard enough to get a (fastball) by him.”
Spring Training 1983: Laga looks to land the first baseman job
Even before the season started, there was a telling quote from Sparky in January ’83 about Laga when asked if he was counting on him making the ballclub.
“Mike Laga is very young. He had a good year-bu not a great year-at Evansville in ’82. He’s going to have to show me right away in spring training that he’s ready. Remember, you can always bring somebody up after you send him down.”
Anderson went the veteran route, as he often did, despite Laga hitting .292 with three home runs in spring training. Mike Ivie, Enos Cabell and Rick Leach got the nod instead. When Detroit signed free agent Darrell Evans, Laga’s days of being a permeant fixture in the Tigers’ lineup were over. Even with a .545 stretch in nine games in 1984, Mike Laga struggled in his final tour with the Tigers before he went to St. Louis for Mike Heath in 1986.
Detroit Tigers Depth Chart: Catchers
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