IN 1984, the Detroit Tigers won baseball’s World Series.
There was a parade in Detroit.
Love was in the air.
Detroit went nuts.
The riots that erupted after the Tigers’ World Series victory over the San Diego Padres in 1984 left one person dead and 80 injured. Eight rapes were reported, along with millions of dollars in property damage. Detroiters overturned and burned a squad car and a taxi and hurled rocks and bottles at police wearing riot gear.
A star was born. Bubba Helms was 17.
“I did it for my sister,” Helms would later say. “I told her, I promised her that I’d get on TV or get a picture taken.”
He became a kind of hero.
Bubba Helms stands next to a burning Detroit police car after the Detroit Tigers beat the San Diego Padres to win the 1984 World Series in Detroit. Helms became a folk hero of sorts; two weeks after the Tigers won, a number of people came to Detroit-area Halloween parties dressed like him. The rest of his life, though, would be marked by failure, drug addiction, mental illness and a broken marriage. (AP Photo/Joe Kennedy)
In April 2001, just as baseball season started up, Bubba Helms put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. “Helms’ 2-year-old son was in his grandpa’s arms, watching, as his dad pulled the trigger,” the Free Press reported. The shot didn’t kill him, just shattered his jaw, and the hospital eventually sent him on his way with a prescription for painkillers. He took an entire bottle, and died.
His nephew found something in Helms’s closet while going through his belongings, the Free Press wrote. It was 1984 Detroit Tigers pennant. The family still had the newspaper clippings of Helms holding it at the riots. It had always been the highlight of his life.