Monday, July 1, 2013

Greatest Tigers Of All Time.

With the exploits of Miguel Cabrera lately I have been think about the all-time great players for the Detroit Tigers.  Just to make it a little easier for me I picked a first and second All-Tiger squads.  Here is that list:

First Team:

First Base: Hank Greenberg- Greenberg is an easy choice at first, he is a Hall of Famer with a career batting average of .313, 331 homeruns and 1276 RBI's.  He. played for the Tigers from 1933-1941 and again in 1945-46.  Greenberg was one of the premier power hitters of his generation. He hit 58 home runs in 1938, equaling Jimmie Foxx's 1932 mark for the most home runs in one season by any player between 1927 and 1961.  He was AL MVP in 1935 and 1940 a five time All-Star (1937-1940, 45) and a two time World Series Champion (1935, 1945).  He was the heart and soul of those World Series teams and his numbers would be much higher without losing three years to World War II.  Greenberg was the first Jewish superstar in all of American professional sports.  He attracted national attention in 1934 when he refused to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, even though the Tigers were in the middle of a pennant race and he never claimed to be a religiously observant, practicing Jew.

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer- Another easy choice.  Played for the Tigers from 1924-1942.  Widely regarded as one of the best second basemen of all time, Gehringer was also one of the best-fielding second basemen in history, having led all American League second basemen in fielding percentage and assists seven times. His 7,068 assists is the second highest total in major league history for a second baseman. He also collected 5,369 putouts as a second basemen (the 6th highest total for a second baseman) and 1,444 double plays (the 7th highest total for a second baseman).  Known for his consistency as a hitter and fielder, Gehringer was given the nickname "The Mechanical Man" by Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez.  Teammate Doc Cramer quipped: "You wind him up Opening Day and forget him.".  A durable player, Gehringer had two consecutive game streaks of more than 500 games—one from 1927 to 1931 and the other from 1931 to 1935  Elected to the Hall of Fame (1949) with a batting average of .320, 184 homeruns, 2839 hits and 1427 RBI's.  1937 AL MVP, 1937 batting title 1935 World Series Champion and six-time All-Star (1933-1938)

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera- This will be a controversial choice, George Kell is the Tigers Hall of Fame third baseman but I think Cabrera has better numbers.  Kell's numbers, batting average .305, homeruns 78 hits, 2054, 870 RBI's, AL batting title (1949), ten-time All-Star (1947-1957).  However Cabrera's numbers are better or will be.  Cabrera is hitting .320 with 340 homeruns, 1898 hits, 1194 RBI's, AL Triple Crown (2012), AL MVP (2012), two-time homeun title (2008, 2012), two-time RBI champion (2010, 2012), two-time AL batting title (2011, 2012) and seven-time All-Star (2004-2007, 2010-2012).  If he continues on his current pace for eight years he will be 3rd all-time in hits with 3448, 7th all-time in homeruns with 624, 3rd all-time with 2177 RBI's and a batting average of .322 far exceeding Kell's numbers.  Of course Kell was a much better defensive third baseman but Cabrera's large lead in offensive numbers gives him the nod.

Shortstop: Alan Trammell- I think this is a pretty safe bet for the all-time shortstop.  Trammell has a batting average of .285, 185 homeruns, 2365 hits, 1003 RBI's, four-time Gold Glove winner (1980, 81, 83, 84) World Series Champion (1984), six-time All-Star (1980, 84, 85, 87, 88, 90), AL Comeback Player of the Year (1983) and World Series MVP (1984).  Trammell, along with his Tiger teammates, enjoyed a championship-winning season in 1984 when they started the season 35–5 and won the World Series.  Despite a season-long battle with tendinitis in his shoulder which caused him to miss 23 regular season games, he finished fifth in AL batting race with .314. ALCS against the Royals, Trammell hit .364 with one home run and three RBI. Finally, in the World Series, he was 9-for-20 against the Padres, including a pair of two-run home runs that accounted for all of Tigers' runs in a Game 4 victory. Detroit won the series 4–1.  In 1985 after two consecutive years of batting not lower than .314, Trammell was hampered by injuries and posted only a .258 batting average. He underwent postseason surgery on left knee and right shoulder. The following season, playing without any injuries, Trammell became only the second player in Detroit history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases (Kirk Gibson and Curtis Granderson have since joined the club). Trammell also set a career-high with 75 RBI.

Catcher: Mickey Cochrane- Also known as Black Mickey because of his foul moods.  Elected to the Hall of Fame (1947)  Cochrane has career numbers of: batting average .320, homeruns 119, 832 RBI's, two-time AL MVP (1928, 34), three-time World Series Champion (1929, 30, 35) and two All-Star (1934, 35).  His .419 on base percentage is the best among catchers, he was the first catcher to score 100 runs and get 100 RBI's and hit for the cycle twice (July 22nd 1932, August 2nd 1933.  Cochrane's playing career came to a sudden end on May 25, 1937 when he was hit in the head by a pitch by Yankees pitcher Bump Hadley.  Hospitalized for seven days, the injury nearly killed him. His accident generated a call for protective helmets for batters, but tradition won out at that time.  Ordered by doctors not to play baseball again (he was just 34 years old), he returned to the dugout to continue managing the Tigers but had lost his competitive fire.  He managed for the remainder of the 1937 season, but was replaced midway through the 1938 season.  His all-time managerial record was 348-250, for a .582 winning percentage

Left Fielder: Harry Heilmann- Not a pick the casual fan would think of but another Hall of Famer.  Batting average .342 12th highest career average, 183 homeruns, 2660 hits, 1539 RBI's, four-time AL batting champion (1921, 23, 25, 27).  For the decade of the 1920's Heilmann averaged 220 hits, 110 runs, 45 doubles, 12 triples, 16 homeruns and 130 RBI's no one averaged a better decade.  In 1918, with the United States entered World War I, Heilmann joined the U.S. Navy and served on a submarine causing him to miss half of the 1918 season.  When a reporter reminded him that he had won batting titles every other year from 1921 to 1927, Heilmann replied: (Tiger owner) "Mr. [Frank] Navin gives me contracts on a two-year basis. I always bear down real hard when a new contract is coming up.  Though primarily a line-drive hitter, Heilmann could also hit for power. He was among the AL leaders in homeruns 11 times. On July 8, 1921, Heilmann hit a home run in Detroit reported by the New York Tribune at a gargantuan 610 feet – one of the longest ever recorded.

Center Fielder: Ty Cobb- Duh, easy choice, the greatest Tiger ever.  Career number that make everybody else look like minor leaguers.  Highest batting average (.366), 117 homeruns, second in hits (4191), 1938 RBI's.  most steals of home (54), twelve-time AL batting champion (1907, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,17, 18, 19), second in runs scored (2245), hit over .400 three times and hit under .320 only once in his career.  Cobb's legacy as an athlete has sometimes been overshadowed by his surly temperament and aggressive playing style, which was described by the Detroit Free Press as "daring to the point of dementia."  Cobb himself wrote shortly before his death, "In legend I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport."  Cobb was notorious for sliding into bases feet first, with his spikes high.  In October 1918, Cobb enlisted in the Chemical Corps branch of the Army and was sent to the Allied Expeditionary Forces headquarters in Chaumont, France.  He served approximately 67 days overseas before receiving an Honorable Discharge and returning to the United States.  He was given the rank of captain underneath the command of Major Branch Rickey, the president of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Other baseball players serving in this unit included Captain Christy Mathewson and Lieutenant George Sisler.  All of these men were assigned to the Gas and Flame Division, where they trained soldiers in preparation for chemical attacks by exposing them to gas chambers in a controlled environment, which was eventually responsible for Mathewson's contracting tuberculosis which led to his premature death on the eve of the 1924 World Series.

Right Fielder: Al Kaline- Another easy choice, my favorite player.  Hall of Famer, hit .297 with 399 homeruns, 3007 hits, 1583 RBI's, World Series Champion (1968), 1955 batting title, ten-time Gold Glove winner (1957-1959, 1961-1967), 18-time All-Star [1955-1967 (two games in 59, 60 & 61), 1971, 74]. 
Kaline bypassed the minor league system and joined the team directly from high school as an 18-year-old "bonus baby" signee, receiving $35,000 ($300,330 as of 2013), to sign with the Tigers.  He made his major league debut on June 25, 1952 in Philadelphia as a late-inning replacement for outfielder Jim Delsing.  Kaline wore No. 25 during his rookie campaign, but asked teammate Pat Mullin for his No. 6 after the 1953 season ended.  Kaline, who was also known simply as "Six" in the Tiger clubhouse, wore the number for the rest of his major league playing career.

Right Handed Pitcher (1): Hal Newhouser- Prince Hal would be my first choice for a right handed starter he was 207-150 with a 3.06 ERA and 1796 strikeouts.  He was a two-time AL MVP (1944-45), only pitcher to win back to back MVP awards, World Series Champion (1945), won pitching Triple Crown (1945), four time AL wins leader (1944-46, 48), two-time AL strikeout leader (1944-45), two-time ERA leader (1945-46), seven-time All-Star (1942-1948).  As World War II got under way, the Tigers moved up in the standings because several of their top players, including Newhouser, were classified as 4-F (ineligible to be drafted).  Newhouser was 4-F due to a leaky heart valve; he attempted to join the service anyway but was turned down several times.  He blossomed all at once in 1944, becoming a dominant pitcher in wartime baseball.  That season, Newhouser rang up a 29–9 record, leading the league in wins and strikeouts (187).  His 2.22 ERA was second in the league, as were his 25 complete games and six shutouts.  The Tigers jumped into contention, finishing second in the American League, with Newhouser named MVP.  Newhouser won the first Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award in 1944.   In 1945, he repeated as MVP.  This time, he won the pitcher's Triple Crown, leading the AL in wins (25, against nine losses), ERA (1.81) and strikeouts (212).  He also led the league in innings pitched, games started, complete games and shutouts.  Newhouser pitched four innings of relief on the season's final day as Detroit rallied for the pennant.  He then won two games in the World Series to help his team to the World Championship, including the deciding seventh game. Newhouser won the second Pitcher of the Year Award in 1945.  He is currently the youngest player to win the award two consecutive years at the age of 24. Newhouser was the Sporting News Player of the Year.  In 1946, he went 26–9 with a 1.94 ERA, again leading the league in wins and ERA. His 275 strikeouts was second in the league. Newhouser was runner-up in the MVP race to Ted Williams.  Newhouser continued to rate among the game's best pitchers for the next five years.  He won 17 games in 1947, led the AL with 21 wins in 1948 and rang up an 18–11 mark in 1949. 

Right Handed Pitcher (2): Justin Verlander- JV would have to be my other choice fora right handed starter.  Yes, his career isn't over but I think his body of work so far is enough to include him on this list.  He is currently 132-70 with a 3.43 ERA and 1564 strikeouts.  He was Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young Award winner (2011), AL MVP (2011), AL Pitching Triple Crown (2011), two-time MLB wins leader (2009, 11), three-time AL strikeout leader (2009, 11, 12), five-time All-Star (2007, 2009-2012), two-time TSN pitcher of the year (2011-12), threw two no-hitters (2007, 2011).

Left Handed Pitcher (1): Mickey Lolich- Mickey would have to be the consensus pick for #1 left handed pitcher.  He was 217-191 with a 3.44 ERA and 2832 strikeouts which is 2nd most for a AL left hander.  He was a World Series champion and World Series MVP (1968), three-time All-Star (1969, 71, 72), leads the Tigers in shutouts (39), 3rd on the team in wins (207).  Lolich was consistency itself, winning 14 or more games for ten consecutive seasons climaxing in 1971, when he led the American League with 25 victories (which no subsequent Tiger pitcher has done) and 22 in 1972.  He struck out a career-high 308 in 1972, helping the Tigers to the AL East championship that season (before bowing to the eventual world champion Oakland A's three games to two) as runner-up for the Cy Young Award.  The 308 strikeouts is still the Tigers record for a single season. He also struck out 200 or more seven times in his career, and ranks third among left-handers (behind Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson) in career strikeouts with 2,832.  In 1968 Detroit became only the third team in World Series history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win in seven games.  Lolich became the 12th pitcher to win three games in a World Series, and the last with three complete games in a single Series.  He was the last pitcher with three wins in the same Series before Randy Johnson in 2001.

Left Handed Pitcher (2): Ed Killian- I had to look long and hard for a second left handed pitcher to put up along with Lolich and I finally found Ed Killian.  Killian was a pitcher for the Tigers from 1904 to 1910 and ended his career with a record of 102-78 an ERA of 2.38 (24th best in MLB history) and 516 strikeouts.  In his career he surrendered only nine homeruns, including a stretch of 1001 innings, over five seasons, without one.   In 1904, Killian had 32 complete games and a 2.44 ERA in 331 innings, but without support from the 7th place Tigers, Killian had the dubious distinction of losing 20 games in his first full season.  As proof that his 1904 win-loss record was not indicative of his talents, Killian battled Cy Young in one of the most remarkable pitching duels in history on May 11, 1904.  Young and Killian each pitched 14 scoreless innings, before the Red Sox scored a run in the 15th inning, winning 1–0.  In 1907 the Tigers were locked in a battle with the Philadelphia A's and Killian won both games of a double header to win the pennant.  He pitched in both the 1907 and 1908 World Series. 

Relief Pitcher (1): Willie Hernandez- As far as I'm concerned the best reliever in Tigers history.  He pitched for the Tigers from 1984 to 1989.  He was 70-63 with an ERA of 3.38, 788 strikeouts and 147 saves.  AL MVP (1984), AL Cy Young Award (1984), World Series champion (1984), three-time All-Star (1984-86).  Hernandez was a key pitcher on the 1984 World Series Championship team.  He had a 9–3 record, 32 saves and a 1.92 ERA in 140 innings pitched, while recording 112 strikeouts.  In the entire season, Hernandez gave up only six homeruns, 30 runs, 36 walks and 96 hits.  His 32 saves came in 33 opportunities.

Relief Pitcher (2): John Hiller- In my opinion the second best reliever in Tigers history and oddly enough both are left handed.  Played for the Tigers from 1965 to 1980, except for 1971 when he was recovering from a heart attack.  He was 87-76 with a 2.83 ERA, 1036 strikeouts and 125 saves.  He was a World Series champion in 1968 and an All-Star in 1974 as well as the AL Comeback Player of the Year in 1973.  He recorded 39 saves in 1973 a MLB record for ten years and a team record until 2000.

Manager: Sparky Anderson- Sparky is the best manager in Tiger history.  He was the skipper from 1979 to 1995.  In 1984 he led the Tigers to their first World Series title since 1968.  In his first ten years with the team they had a winning record every year.  Two-time Manager of the Year Award (1984, 87).  Leads the Tigers in managerial wins (1331).  First manager to win 600 games in both leagues.  During his managerial career, Anderson was known to heap lavish praise on his ballplayers when talking to the media. He declared Kirk Gibson "the next Mickey Mantle," which he later acknowledged may have put too much pressure on Gibson early in his career. He said Mike Laga, who played for him in 1984, would "make us forget every power hitter who ever lived."  He also said Johnny Bench (who played for him in Cincinnati) "will never throw a baseball as hard as Mike Heath" (a catcher who played for him in Detroit).

Second Team:

First Base: Norm Cash- Stormin' Norman has to be the second best first baseman in Tigers history.  He anchored the middle of the Tigers lineup for 15 years after being traded first from the White Sox to the Indians for Minnie Minoso and then to the Tigers for Steve Demeter.  He hit .271 with 377 homeruns, 1820 hits and 1103 RBI's.  Five-time All-Star (1961 (two games), 66, 71, 72), World Series champion (1968), AL batting champion (1961) and two-time AL Comeback Player of the Year (1965, 71)

Second Base: Lou Whitaker- Sweet Lou is the consensus pick of the second best second baseman in Tigers history.  He hit .276 with 244 homeruns, 2369 hits and 1084 RBI's.  Rookie of the Year (1978), World Series champion (1984), three-time Gold Glove Award winner (1983-1985), five-time All-Star (1983-1987).  Four-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1983-1985, 87).  One of the best doubleplay combos, along with Alan Trammell.  Holds Tigers record for most doubleplays (1527), second in Tigers history in walks (1197) and second in franchise history in assists (6653).  In 1985 he was part of an infield where all four players hit at least 20 homeruns.

Shortstop: Bill Rogell- Rogell was the Tigers shortstop from 1930 until 1939.  He led the AL in fielding percentage for shortstops (1935-1937) and World Series champion (1935).  He hit .267 with 1375 hits and 609 RBI's.  Holds the record for walks in consecutive plate appearances (7).  He anchored the left side of the infield for the pennant winning 1934 and 1935 Tigers.  In the 1934 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, with Cards ace Dizzy Dean acting as a pinch runner Rogell hit him square in the forehead with a throw to first attempting a doubleplay.  After the incident Rogell said "If I knew Dean's head was there I would have thrown the ball harder".

Third Base: George Kell- Even though Kell is a Hall of Famer Cabrera got the nod for best third baseman but Kell is definitely number two.  Kell hit .305 with 78 homeruns, 2054 hits and 870 RBI's.  He won the AL batting title (1949) and was a ten-time All-Star (1947-1957).

Catcher: Bill Freehan- The starting catcher for the 1968 World Championship Detroit Tigers.  Ht .262 with 200 homeruns, 758 RBI's and 1591 hits.  Caught more games (1774) then any other Tiger catcher. Sixth all-time in MLB history in hit by pitch (114)

Left Fielder: Willy Horton- Left Fielder for the 1968 team, hit .273 for his career with 325 homeruns and 1163 RBI's and 1993 hits.  Four-time All-Star (1965, 68, 70, 73).

Center Fielder: Jim Northrup-  I'm putting Northrup in as a center fielder because I needed to have Sam Crawford in right and because Northrup played center during the 1968 fall classic

Right Fielder: Sam Crawford- Crawford was the second best hitter on the Tigers from 1905 until 1917.  Hall of Famer, holds the MLB record for triples (309).  Led the AL in homeruns (1908-7), runs (1907-102), doubles (1909-35), triples (1910, 1913-1915) and RBI's (1910, 14-15).  Crawford had a love/hate relationship with Ty Cobb as Cobb became the biggest star in baseball Crawford resented the preferential treatment given Cobb and the two hardly spoke, even though the played next to each other in the outfield and Crawford followed him in the batting order.

Right Handed Pitcher (1): Denny McLain- The star pitcher of the 1968 season, McLain hold the team record for single season wins with 31.  He was 131-91 with a 3.39 ERA and 1282 strikeouts.  He's reputation suffers because of his off-field exploits and poor World Series performance but is still one of the best pitchers in team history.

Right Handed Pitcher (2): Jack Morris- The star pitcher of the 1984 World Series winning team.  five-time All-Star (1981, 84, 85, 87), AL wins leader (1981), AL strikeouts leader (1983), AL shutout leader (1986), Led the Tigers in wins (1997-88, 90), had the most wins of the '80's (162).  He is 254-186 with a 3.90 ERA and 2478 strikeouts.

Left Handed Pitcher (1): Earl Whitehill- I had to dip even further to find the two second team left handed pitchers.  I managed to come up with Whitehill and Leonard.  Whitehill pitched for the Tigers from 1923 until 1932.  Averaged 14 wins a season 218-185 with a 4.36 ERA and 1350 strikeouts.  Has the highest ERA of any pitcher with at least 200 wins.

Left Handed Pitcher (2): Dutch Leonard- Was a pitcher for the Tigers from 1919-1921 and 1924-1925.  139-113 with a 2.76 ERA and 1160 strikeouts.  Leonard was suspended by the American League for signing with a team in the San Joaquin Valley League after a salary dispute with Tigers owner Frank Navin.  After returning to the Tigers after his suspension he feuded with Tigers manager Ty Cobb over everything from curfew to how to pitch Tris Speaker and George Sisler.  He might not have been the best pitcher the Tigers had but it seems he sure made life interesting.

Relief Pitcher (1): Todd Jones- Rolaids Relief Man of the Year (2000).  The Tigers leader in games saved with 206 he had a 3.97 ERA and 868 strikeouts.  Always made life interesting at the end of games as is the norm in recent years for Tigers closers.  Threw the last pitch in Tigers Stadium

Relief Pitcher (2): Aurelio Lopez-  Lopez along with Willie Hernandez were the shut 'em down relievers of the 1984 Tigers.  He was 62-36 with a 3.56 ERA, 635 strikeouts and 93 saves.  In 1984 he was 10-1 with 14 save and an ERA of 2.94.  He was a combined 2-0 in the 1984 ALCS and World Series and did not give up a run in six innings of work. 

Manager: Hughie Jennings-  Hall of Fame (1945).  Managed the Tigers from 1907 until 1920, led the Tigers to the pennant in 1907-1909, is second in win as a Tigers manager (1131).  Jennings was a vary colorful character in the dugout.  During his years as Detroit’s manager, Jennings became famous for his antics, mostly in the third base coaching box, which variously included shouts of “Ee-Yah,” and other whoops, whistles, horns, gyrations, jigs, and grass-plucking. The "Ee-Yah" whoop became his trademark and was accompanied with waves of both arms over his head and a sharp raising of his right knee. In 1907, he was suspended for taunting opponents with a tin whistle. The "Ee-Yah" shouts continued and became such a trademark that Jennings became known as Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings, and Detroit fans would shout "Ee-Yah" when Jennings would appear on the field.  He once told Ty Cobb There isn’t anything about baseball I can teach you. Anything I might say to you would merely hinder you in your development. The only thing for you to do is go ahead and do as you please. Use your own judgment.. . . . . Do what you think is best and I’ll back you up.

That is the list, I'm sure everybody has their own opinions as well as additions and deletions, well, that is what sports is all about.  Feel free to comment on anything I've posted or if you agree or disagree with this list.  Look for a list of the all-time best Red Wings coming soon.