Greatest Detroit Tigers of All Time
Best Detroit Tigers Players Ever
I've lived my whole life in Michigan, and ever since I was a kid playing little league, the Detroit Tigers have been my favorite baseball team. The fact that they won the World Series right about the time I got interested in baseball in 1984 certainly doesn't hurt either. Some of the years between the late 90s and early 2000s were tough to watch, but finally they seem to always be in the mix for the AL Central title over the last few years.
This hub is dedicated to the greatest Tigers to ever play the game. With the long history of the team, it was tough to pick the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time. I picked players who played most,or all, of their careers with the Tigers or who played for the Tigers longer than they did for any other team. Most of these players had Hall of Fame careers, and the ones that didn't have a good chance at getting in someday. Many of them also won a World Series or at least a pennant with the Tigers. Without further ado, here are my picks for best Tigers ever to play the game.
Ty Cobb may not be considered the most popular character to ever play the game, but in the annals of baseball history he is one of the best players ever, and certainly one of the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time. He's held, or still holds, numerous records in baseball history.
Cobb, who was nicknamed the Georgia Peach, played 22 seasons (1905-1926) in a Tigers uniform, finishing off his career with the Philadelphia Athletics for 2 seasons (1927-28). He hit .366 for his career and won 11 batting titles, which are both all time records that don't look like they'll be broken anytime soon. He also held the all time records for hits, runs, stolen bases (modern record), games played, and at bats until they were broken in the 70s and 80s. Cobb hit over .400 in a season 3 times and stole second base, third base, and home in the same inning 4 times. Among his career totals are 4,191 hits, 892 stolen bases, and 2,245 runs, which are all among the all time leaders.
Cobb didn't put up the kind of stats in the postseason that he did during the regular season. Even though he went to the World Series with the Tigers three years in a row (1907,08, and 09), he was never on a championship team.
In 1936, Cobb got the highest percentage of votes in the first Baseball Hall of Fame election. He will always be considered one of the biggest legends of the game.
Another one of the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time is Hank Greenberg. Though he only played 9 full seasons (he missed 3 full seasons and part of 2 others serving in the military during World War ll and another season due to injury), he is possibly the greatest power hitter in Tigers history.
"Hammerin' Hank" played for the Tigers in 1930, 1933-1941 and 1945-1946 before finishing his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947. He was a five-time All-Star, two time AL MVP winner (1935 and 1940), and won 2 World Series with the Tigers in 1935 and 1945. His 58 homers in 1938 were 2 short of Babe Ruth's record at the time and his 183 RBIs in 1937 remains one of the best season totals ever. He finished his career with a .313 batting average, 1,628 hits, 331 homers, 1,051 runs, and 1,276 RBIs. One can only wonder how high his power stats may have gotten if he hadn't missed so much playing time during his career.
Greenberg's number 5 was retired by the Tigers in 1983. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.
Al Kaline is not only one of the great Detroit tigers ever, he also may be the most popular player they ever had. He spent his entire 22 year career (1953-1974) with the Tigers, playing mostly outfield and some first base, with his last season as the DH.
Kaline was a 15-time All-Star selection, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and came in the top 10 in AL MVP voting nine times (being the runner up twice). In 1955, He became the youngest player to win the AL batting title with an average of .340. Kaline was also part of Detroit's 1968 World Series winning team. His career totals include a .297 batting average, 3,007 hits, 399 home runs, 1,622 runs, and 1,583 ribbies.
Kaline did color commentary for Tigers telecasts for many years and still works in the organization. His number 6 was retired by the Tigers. Kaline was also elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, which was his first year of eligibility.
Charlie Gehringer is considered one of the best second basemen to ever play the game and one of the greatest Detroit Tigers players. He played his entire 19 year career (1924-1942) with the Tigers.
Gehringer, nicknamed "The Mechanical Man", was the starting second baseman for the first 6 All-Star games (1933-1938). He won the AL MVP in 1937 with 209 hits, 133 runs scored, 96 RBIs, and a league leading .371 batting average. He helped lead the Tigers to 3 AL pennants in 1934, 1935, and 1940, with them winning the 1935 World Series. Gehringer's career totals include a .320 average, 2,839 hits, 1,774 runs scored, 184 homers, and 1,427 RBIs.
The #2 Gehringer wore during his career was retired by the Tigers in 1983. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.
As one of the best pitchers of his era, Hal Newhouser ranks among the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time. He played for the Tigers from 1939 - 1953 and finished off his career playing with the Cleveland Indians for 2 years.
Newhouser was the only pitcher to ever win back-to-back MVP awards in 1944 with a 25-9 record, 1.81 ERA, and 212 strikeouts (leading the league in wins, ERA, and Ks) and in 1945 with a 26-9 record, 1.94 ERA, and 275 strikeouts (leading the league in wins and ERA). He was also a seven-time All-Star selection. Newhouser won 2 games (including game 7) to help lead the Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship. He finished his career with a 207-150 record, 3.06 ERA, and 1,796 strikeouts.
The Tigers retired Newhouser's #16 in 1997. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 by the Veteran's Committee.
Harry Heilmann's name definitely belongs on the list of best Detroit Tigers players of all time. He was one of the top hitters in the 1920s and played for the Tigers in 1914 and from 1916 to 1929 before finishing his career with the Cincinnati Reds for 2 seasons (1930 and 1932).
Heilmann led the American League in batting average four times in his career, hitting over .390 each time with a high of .403 in 1923. He also had four seasons of 200+ hits, eight seasons of 100+ RBIs, and four seasons of 100+ runs. For his career, Heilmann hit .342 with 2,660 hits, 183 homers, 1,291 runs, and 1,539 RBIs.
After his playing career was over, Heilmann called the play-by-play for Tigers radio broadcasts from 1934 to 1950. In 1952, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Despite playing only 5 full seasons and part of 2 others for the Detroit Tigers (1946-1952), George Kell had his best years there and played for them longer than he did for any other team. Because of this, I would have to consider him among the greatest Tigers of all time. He also played for the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Baltimore Orioles.
Kell played in the All Star game as a third baseman every full season he was with the Tigers, and played in 10 total. His best season was in 1950, when hit .340 and led the league with 218 hits and 56 doubles, along with scoring 114 runs and knocking in 101 for a 4th place finish in the AL MVP voting. For his career, Kell hit .306 with 2,054 hits, 385 doubles, 881 runs, and 870 RBIs.
Kell was a play by play announcer for Tigers telecasts from 1959 to 1996, with Al Kaline for most of those years (1975-1996). He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1983.
One of the greatest Tigers of all time from early in the 20th century is Sam Crawford. He started his career by playing 4 seasons (1899-1902) with the Cincinnati Reds and played the rest of his career (1903-1917) with the Tigers.
"Wahoo Sam" Crawford was considered a big time slugger of the dead ball era of the early 1900s. He is probably best known for the amount of triples and inside the park homers he hit. Crawford still has the all time career record for triples with 309 and the season record for inside-the-park home runs with 12 in 1901, along with second highest total for inside the parkers for a career with 51. He was also the first player to ever lead both leagues on homers (1901 and 1908). He hit .309 for his career and came just short of the 3,000 hit milestone with 2,961.
Crawford played in 3 World Series with the Tigers in 1907, 1908, and 1909. Like Ty Cobb, he never hit near as well in the World Series as he did during the regular season and the Tigers lost all three. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957 by the Veterans Committee.
One of the best Detroit Tigers of all time who played more recently than most of the names on this list is Alan Trammell. He played shortstop for the Tigers throughout his entire 20 year career (1977-1996) and had a three year stint as their manager from 2003-2005.
Trammell was a six time All-Star, four time Gold Glove winner, three time Silver Slugger winner, placed among the top 10 in MVP voting 3 times, and winner of the Comeback Player Of The Year in 1983. He also won the World Series MVP award in the Tigers great 1984 championship season. In 1987, which was his best season, he hit .343 with 28 homers, 205 hits, and 105 RBIs to finish a close second to George Bell for the AL MVP. For his career, Trammell hit .285 with 2,365 hits, 185 homers, 1,231 runs, 1,003 RBIs, and 236 stolen bases. Trammell and long time Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker are considered one of the best double play combos of all time.
After a long wait, Trammell will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
Jack Morris is another player who played not too long ago that should be on the list of the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time. Morris pitched for the Tigers from 1977-1990 and had stints with the Minnesota Twins (1991), Toronto Blue Jays (1992 and 1993), and Cleveland Indians (1994) to finish off his career.
Morris was a 5-time All-Star selection and had three 20 win seasons during his career. He won 2 games in the 1984 World Series for the Tigers to help them win the title. He also was on World Series winners with the Minnesota Twins (1991, named World Series MVP) and the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993. For his career, Morris finished with a 254-186 record, 3.90 ERA, and 2,478 strikeouts.
Morris will finally get inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Trammell, in 2018.
No list of the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time would be complete without Sparky Anderson. While he never played for the Tigers, his tenure as their manager puts him on this list.
Sparky Anderson wasn't a very good player, as he spent the majority of his playing career in the minor leagues with only one season (1959 with the Philadelphia Phillies) in the majors in which he batted only .218. However, he did have leadership qualities that helped turn him into a great manager. After managing in the minors and coaching in the major for a few years, Sparky got the chance to manage the Cincinnati Reds. He managed the Reds from 1970-1978, winning the World Series in 1975 and 1976. He came to manage the Tigers in 1979 and stayed with them until 1995. In the Tigers championship season of 1984, Anderson became the first manager to win the World Series in both leagues. He was named AL Manager of the Year in 1984 and 1987 with the Tigers. Sparky finished his managerial career with a 2194-1834 record, along a total of 5 pennants and 3 World Series titles.
In 2000, Sparky Anderson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager by the Veterans Committee. Sadly, he passed away on Nov.4, 2010.
With two AL MVP awards (2012 and '13) and a triple crown ('12) there is no doubt that Cabrera has reached a point where he can be counted among the greatest Tigers ever and one of the best in the game in this era.
2014 may have been a down year for Verlander, but at this point he's got to be considered one of the greatest Tigers pitchers ever. With a Cy Young and AL MVP award in 2011, along with the AL Rookie of the Year in '06, he's got some nice hardware. He also has 2 no-hitters and came on a close second in Cy Young voting in 2012. Even though he has since been traded to the Houston Astros, his Tigers career will always stand out.
Other Great Tigers
With the long history of baseball in Detroit, there are plenty of great tigers who didn't get featured here. Names such as Mickey Cochrane, Mickey Lolich, Heinie Manush, Willie Horton, and Norm Cash come to mind from the old school players. More recent players such as Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, and Cecil Fielder should also be given some consideration. And, of course, there's Ernie Harwell, who really deserves to be in a category by himself. Whatever the case, there have been plenty of players who had great years with the Tigers.