Justin Verlander and the 25 Most Marketable Detroit Tigers of All Time
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Marketability is everything in professional sports. It is the difference between a fruitful franchise and one that flounders.
Justin Verlander provides marketability on a national level for the Detroit Tiger franchise, as well as other franchises in the league. Verlander puts people in seats at Comerica Park and on the road.
He was an instant market-grabber following his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2006, helping the Tigers to their first World Series in 22 years. He followed that up with the first of two no-hitters in only six major league seasons. Last year he put himself into another category with a historic run that included the A.L. Cy Young and MVP honors.
In professional sports marketability is pretty simple—sell tickets, move merchandise and endear fans to your brand.
Teams with a loyal following, like the Tigers, endure even during difficult times. What else would explain the Boston Red Sox and their throng of fans during an 86-year absence from championship glory.
True fans endure. They proudly wear their team's colors regardless of outcome. They stand behind their team, and they never lose faith in their heroes. It is these hometown heroes who fuel the economic growth of a team and at other times rescue it from peril.
In professional sports, owners might write the checks, but players have and always will drive the market of the game.
1978 Detroit Tigers Logo
It is no easy task to compare players from the dead-ball era to those that play the game today. Baseball pundits have tried to do so, well, forever. Add to that a "best-of-debate" and everyone is apt to disagree. Soon after, the fighting begins, and before anyone realizes, it's a bar-room brawl about how so-and-so is better than so-and-so, when really Ty Cobb was the best.
A look at the most marketable Tigers of all time should be no different.
The rank order of this list infuses the entire history of the Tigers into a tiny capsule of those organizational members who influenced the game so much it drove the marketability of the team. That said, it's difficult to not get sucked into the vacuum of excuse-making for non-comparable time periods.
It's also difficult to forget that before the late 70s and free agency, the market of baseball was still pretty small. In an attempt to survive in the cut-throat world of major league baseball, any team would have done well to have one of these famous Tigers on their roster, even if in a vacuum.
Factors to consider in the marketing of professional sport teams and their team personnel are career achievements, career highlights, historical moments, character, affability and the era of baseball.
A surprise or two awaits, as well as a few history lessons to boot. If there's one thing that sports fans agree on, it's that they don't agree on much at all. Let the debate begin.
No. 25 Ron LeFlore
Ron LeFlore started the 1976 All-Star Game for the American League.
Ron LeFlore might not make most fans' lists, but I'll argue that he should. From a 30,000-foot view, things might make a little more sense. Hence, the reason LeFlore makes the list at No. 25.
LeFlore's start to his career as a Tiger is a Hollywood screenwriter's dream. A down-and-sout kid from the streets of Detroit living a life of crime is sent to prison and discovered as a major league baseball talent. His autobiography, "Breakout: From Prison to the Big Leagues," told the story of his rise from Jackson State Prison in Southern Michigan and unlikely success.
Some of the best Hollywood movies about sports have been about baseball, and LeFlore's story has the makings of a blockbuster hit.
His story makes him worthy for the list, so he grabbed the last slot.
LeFlore's greatest baseball talent was his speed. He stole 455 bases in his career, including a league-leading 68 in 1978. LeFlore scored 126 runs that year as well, leading the A.L.
From 1976-1979, LeFlore's batting average was just shy of .310 in nearly 2,700 plate appearances. Those numbers made him a fan favorite, and by the time he left Detroit to head to Montreal his off-field success story was much bigger than his on-field accomplishments.
No. 24 Cecil Fielder
Cecil Fielder helped carry the Tigers franchise during the mid to late 90's when the organization wallowed in mediocrity.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
With the signing of his son, Prince, Cecil Fielder's name is hot again in Detroit. In 1990, Cecil's name was hot nationwide. His march toward 50 home runs captivated Tigers fans and created memories to last a lifetime.
On the final day of the season, he hit No. 50, and No. 51 for good measure.
Fielder's career highlights for the Tigers were many, including that historic 1990 season. That year he also led the American League in RBI (132 ), slugging percentage (.592) and total bases (339). In 1991, Fielder played all 162 games and again led the A.L. in RBI (133) and home runs (41).
Both seasons, Fielder finished second in MVP voting and made the All-Star team. His career .992 fielding percentage at first base for the Tigers also made him a reliable defender.
Current drama aside, Fielder was an inspiration to many Tigers fans and will be long remembered for his amazing 1990 run.
No. 23 Magglio Ordonez
Ordonez's famous long locks were a trademark of his early career in Detroit, and something fans often imitated.
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Magglio Ordonez was one of many puzzle pieces Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski put together in the mid-2000s to return the franchise to its once proud glory. Ordonez didn't disappoint, nor did he take long to help Tigers fans forget about his previous eight years with the A.L. Central rival Chicago White Sox.
No, instead Ordonez arrived in town in 2005 and a year later hit one of the biggest home runs in Tigers history, sending Detroit to the World Series for the first time since 1984. Highlight-reel material and life memories create plenty of marketability.
Ordonez endeared himself to many Detroit fans and was often imitated by Tigers faithful wearing long curly wigs in his honor.
His seven years in Detroit saw him lead the league in hitting in 2007, batting an impressive .363, while also setting the mark for doubles at 54. While a Tiger, Ordonez hit .312 and had 989 hits, including 299 extra-base hits.
Although often chided for his defensive play and weaker arm, Ordonez still sports a lifetime .987 fielding percentage. Not Gold Glove-worthy, but more than serviceable just the same.
Tigers fans won't soon forget the big Venezuelan's smile, nor his long dark locks.
No. 22 Denny McLain
Denny McLain was the last Major League pitcher to win 30 or more games. In 1968 he won 31. AP Photo
Denny McLain is far from the most-loved Tiger of all time. In fact, most Tigers fans probably could describe him less charitably because of his post-career contributions to the game. Regardless of whether you admire him for his contributions to team history or hate him for marring his reputation as a historical figure of the organization, McLain is still a hot-button topic and definitely alive and kicking in today's baseball world.
Not all marketing stories are about good. Some are about evil. Most would agree that McLain has plenty history of both on his side.
Shortly after his rise to baseball fame in 1968 when he became the last pitcher to win 31 games and took home the American League Cy Young and MVP awards, his star rocketed back to earth. In 1970 McLain was implicated by Sports Illustrated and Penthouse in scandals involving bookmaking activities.
One negative headline after another derailed McLain, and he headed in a direction that ultimately would drive him from the game. In 1968 and 1969, he led the A.L. in wins, a total of 55 in 82 starts over two seasons. Two years later, he led the American League in another category—losses, totaling 22.
McLain has written books that have sold millions of copies. He's also still sought-fter to sign at card shows and baseball memorabilia events.
No. 21 Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez
When Pudge Rodriguez signed with the Tigers he became the foundation of the team's rebuild.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez's time with the Tigers was brief in comparison to his long, storied career. However, few can disregard the impact of his presence in the Detroit locker room following the abysmal 2003 season when the Tigers organization was in the deepest hole of its history.
Following the franchise's worst regular-season record ever (43-119), a disheartening .256 winning percentage, the Tigers needed answers, fast.
The basement already was dug as deep as it would go and unrest in the Motor City was starting to take its toll on the proud franchise.
How do you fix that? Throw some money at it. They did. Rodriguez signed a multi-year contract to become the foundation of what would be a revival for baseball fans in Detroit. Rodriguez was the poster child for what the Tigers would become. A good picture it was.
During his time with the Tigers, Rodriguez a perennial All-Star behind the dish, took over plate duties and promptly assisted in improving the young Tigers pitching staff. He represented the Tigers in the All-Star game in each of his five seasons with Detroit. This was the mettle that made him an obvious fan favorite.
He hit .298 with 300 RBIs playing with the Tigers. He also 219 extra-base hits, including 140 doubles. His career .992 fielding percentage gives him elite status as one of the best of the best to ever play the position.
Pudge Rodriguez is headed to Cooperstown, and although it might be in a Texas Rangers uniform, he'll always have a special home in Detroit where the baseball revival he sparked is still alive and well today.
No. 20 Jim Leyland
Jim Leyland (right) and Justin Verlander are two of the most marketable Tigers in franchise history.
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In 2006 Jim Leyland took over a recovering but still struggling Tigers team that was in desperate need of a commander. That spring, he gave them exactly that.
Leyland has plenty of detractors, but he has endeared himself to the heart of the city as only he could, with brash no non-sense semantics. Leyland says it like it is and he isn't afraid to address anyone who doesn't take kindly to his decisions.
He doesn't offend, but he'll definitely defend, even when he says he has no intention to do so at all. He changes his mind like he changes his lineup—often. However, make no mistake, he is the puppet master who pulls the strings.
He is the one who has directed their resurgence, regardless of those who would push the Tigers ship in a different direction. Leyland relishes in all that is Detroit.
He has enjoyed greater success in Detroit, earning a .533 winning percentage over six seasons, than in any other city where he's managed, including Florida, where he won the World Series in 1997. Three times he has been awarded Manager of the Year, in 1990 and 1992 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in 2006 with the Tigers.
Again, there's another Hollywood moment. He was a kid who doesn't make it playing pro ball at the minor league level, so he comes back 40 years later to make it as a manager. Leyland may not have amounted to much in the Tigers farm system, but running the show he's done just fine.
No. 19 Dave Dombrowski
Dave Dombrowski was the key cog in the Tigers return to American League prominence.
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By way of the White Sox, Expos and Marlins, where he proved himself, Dave Dombrowski came to the Motor City an accomplished baseball executive hungry to improve another organization.
He's done just that.
In 2002, Tigers owner Mike Illitch hired Dombrowski to put his organization back on the path of glory. In 2003, the Tigers had their worst season ever. Three years later, the Tigers were in the World Series.
Critics abound regarding Dombrowski's unique decision-making, but it is awfully tough to argue with the results. In a short time, Dombrowski brought the Tigers back from the basement. and he's kept them a contender ever since.
Dombrowski also can be credited with bringing the semi-retired Leyland back to baseball, as well as adding Ivan Rodriguez, a move that helped the Tigers' resurgence. Ordonez also arrived by way of Dombrowski's shrewd business mentality.
In 2006, Kenny Rogers worked wonders for the Tigers and was the leader of a very young Detroit staff that included Verlander, a draft acquisition made by Dombrowski.
It would seem quite certain that if not for Dombrowski, the Tigers may still be hanging out in the depths of the A.L. Central standings.
No. 18 Kirk Gibson
Throughout the 80's Kirk Gibson was a prominent face for the Tigers in the media and on highlight reels.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Kirk Gibson may have hit one of the most famous World Series home runs ever when he came off the bench hobbled in 1988 to hit the game-winner for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They still play it today during pre-game highlights.
But Tigers fans would argue Gibson hit an even more amazing World Series shot four year earlier when he took Rich "Goose" Gossage deep to help the Tigers all but clinch the 1984 World Series
Gibson's famous run (leaping) around the bases at Tiger Stadium, huge grin on his face with fists clinched and pumped high in the air, is still my greatest memory as a Tigers fan.
Gibson was a hometown (Pontiac, Mich.) favorite who made good on his potential. Along his baseball journey, he played for other organizations, but he always came home to Detroit. His native soil has treated him well, and Gibson loves the wilderness the great state of Michigan offers.
Gibson was a gritty left-handed hitter with a quick-chop swing that made the ball crack off the bat like thunder from the clouds. He wasn't pretty. He was a hacker.
But when it mattered most, he got it done. In his Tigers career, he hit a respectable .273, better than he hit for any other subsequent organization he played for. He also knocked in 668 runs while compiling 427 extra-base hits and stealing 149 bases. He also earned 499 career walks. Not Hall of Fame numbers by any means. Of course, that's not what the list is about.
There are still plenty of Michigan State football fans wondering what Gibson might have done in the NFL, but far more fans in Michigan are happy he chose to be a Tiger instead.
No. 17 George Kell
George Kell is a prestigious member of the club at Cooperstown.
George Kell played 15 major league seasons, seven with the Tigers. Proudly, he entered the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing the Old English D in 1983 by the vote of the Veteran's Committee.
Without a doubt, he is a Tigers Hall of Famer through and through. Outside of his time on the playing field, Kell was the longtime broadcast partner of both Ernie Harwell and Al Kaline, the former in radio, the latter on television.
Following the Tigers' World Championship season in 1945, Kell came to the Tigers in 1946 in a trade for Barney McCosky of the Philadelphia Athletics. Kell promptly hit better than .300 in seven straight seasons, averaging .325 over his Tigers career. In 1949, he won the American League batting championship, hitting .343.
In 1950, he led the A.L. in games played (157), at-bats (641), hits (218) and doubles (56), while hitting .340. He was a gem at third as well, playing tough defense at a time when the ball was becoming more and more lively.
Although Kell enjoyed parts of his career for other teams, Detroit was where he had his greatest success. Ultimately, his love for Tigers baseball brought him back for another 30 years in the broadcast booth.
No. 16 Lou Whitaker
Sweet-Lou Whitaker was one of the most consistent Tigers to ever wear the Old English D.
Ken Levine/Getty Images
Sweet-Lou Whitaker was the picture of consistency under the Old English D. He played his entire 19- year career with the organization that drafted him.
In 1978, he won the American League Rookie of the Year, signalling the start of one of the most storied careers in Tigers history.
Whitaker will never make baseball's Hall of Fame, nor will he be brought up in conversations about the best to play the game at second base. Most likely, he won't even come up as one of the best Tigers in history by baseball analysts.
In Detroit, however, Whitaker is a baseball hero. He was a quiet leader who is remembered as a player for the way he worked a count, and his endless at-bats firing foul balls into the farthest reaches of Tiger Stadium's upper deck.
What Tigers fans remember about Whitaker is his sweetness on the field. You don't get a nickname like that for nothing.
What Tigers fans remember most about Whitaker is Alan Trammell. The same can be said in reverse about Trammell. From 1978 until 1993, Whitaker and Trammell were the every-day 6-4-3/4-6-3 double-play combination for Detroit. Tigers fans were blessed. No one turned it better than Sweet Lou and Tram.
Whitaker hit .276 over his lifetime, but also had an OBP nearly 100 points higher at .363. Consistently throughout his career, Whitaker walked more than he struck out, finishing with an annual career walk/strikeout ratio that was plus-7 (81/74).
Whitaker also provided a highly effective glove, with a .984 lifetime fielding percentage over 11,613 total chances. Over 19 seasons, he committed a total of 77 errors, never more than 17 in a season, with a career-best four errors in 1991.
Tigers fans could always count on a smile from Sweet Lou Whitaker.
No. 15 Alan Trammell
The Tigers Alan Trammell was an excellent fielder, but also excelled at the plate as well.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
For 20 seasons, as sure as the sun would rise over the eastern Great Lakes, Alan Trammell could be found patrolling shortstop for the Detroit Tigers.
He had 9,790 chances to field the ball, and rarely did he mishandle it. A career .977 fielder, Trammell was steady and consistent on even the toughest of plays. Routinely he made spectacular plays look easy.
Alongside him was his defensive battery mate at second, Lou Whitaker. The two were inseparable as friends and teammates for the better part of two decades.
Later, Trammell would return to Detroit in an effort to rebuild the once-proud Tigers organization. Unfortunately, he failed, but not for lack of will or trying.
Rather, he was stymied by a lack of resources. The Tigers were an awful organization heading into the 21st century, and somehow Trammell got caught up in some dirty Motown wash. He escaped for the most part unscathed because of his already secure place in the Tigers' history.
Trammell, considered to be one of the all-time greatest Tigers, has been ranked as high as ninth on many pundits list of all-time best shortstops. His .285 lifetime batting average is the highest of any Tigers player at the same defensive position.
Trammell also achieved a baseball career milestone, surpassing 1,000 RBIs for his career (1,003) in his final season with the Tigers. He also had nearly 700 career extra-base hits, including 412 doubles and 185 home runs.
Six times he was an All-Star, and in 1987 was arguably robbed of the American League MVP after hitting .343.
His trip around Tiger Stadium in a convertible after being announced as the World Series MVP in 1984 will forever be ingrained in the memories of Tigers fans who remember Detroit's last World Championship. They will not soon forget his MVP performance, or the champagne in his hair.
No. 14 Mark "The Bird" Fidrych
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych and Sesame Street's Big Bird. SI Photo
When you're on the cover of Sports Illustrated with Sesame Street's Big Bird, you're a big deal. In the late in 1970s, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was the biggest deal in Motown in almost a decade.
He took the Motor City by storm in his own quirky way, and they are still talking about him today in Detroit. If the SI cover wasn't enough, Fidrych also appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine a year later.
The 1976 American League Rookie of the Year was an instant star for the Tigers and the face of baseball across the country. In his rookie campaign, he finished second in A.L. Cy Young voting and garnered enough votes to finish 11th in the MVP vote. He also made the A.L. All-Star team, a feat he repeated in 1977.
Fidrych was as strange as he was good. On the mound, he was all business, but to fans he was pure entertainment. Tigers fans reveled in his speeches to the ball and his soft brushing and tamping of the mound. Fidrych was a character indeed.
1976 also saw rookie Fidrych lead the A.L. in ERA, posting an amazing 2.34 while also tossing a league-leading 24 complete games. He won 19 games and only gave up 65 earned runs, striking out 97 and only walking 53.
Arm injuries flamed out a once-shining star for the Tigers, but Fidrych's crazy game-time antics will never go away.
No. 13 Jack Morris
Jack Morris was a spirited and often misunderstood by the media mound presence for the Tigers throughout the 80's.
Not too long ago, Jack Morris fell short in one of his final bids for election to baseball's Hall of Fame. Some argue he didn't do enough. Most argue how much did he have to do?
After all, he was the greatest pitcher for an entire decade, a three-time World Series champion, threw a career no-hitter, and arguably was the last great complete-game pitcher in baseball. Yet, Morris still gets no satisfaction from the Cooperstown enshrinement committee.
His talents were talked about often enough by baseball's greatest writers during various postseason award ceremonies. Yet for all his successes, he never received the Cy Young or MVP.
Seven times he was in the running for the Cy Young Award. Seven times he was denied. Although never a finalist, he garnered MVP votes during six seasons. Again, he was denied six t times.
Of course, the writers can't argue with what the fans decide. So Morris was elected to five American League All-Star teams during his 18-year career.
He won 254 games in his career, twice leading the league. Morris also won 15 or more games in 13-of -his-18 major-league seasons. In addition, he threw 10 or more complete games in a season 11 times, and had two seasons when he threw nine complete games for a total of 175 in his career.
He did so during a time when most starting pitchers were no longer taking the hill for nine innings. Unfortunately, these statistics are often overshadowed by the number of walks (1,390), hits (3,567) and runs (1,815) that Morris allowed. In his defense, he did strike out 2,478.
Morris has long been denied a rightful place in the Hall of Fame, and he may never get there. Fans in Detroit know that without Morris their last world championship celebration would have been more than four decades ago instead of less than three.
No. 12 Sam "Wahoo Sam" Crawford
Sam Crawford still holds the MLB record for career tiples at 309.
One of the greatest Tigers of all time from early in the 20th century was Sam Crawford. "Wahoo Sam" Crawford was an amazing dead-ball era hitter and still holds the MLB record for most career triples with 309
He started his career in Cincinnati, but after four seasons there, he found his home in Detroit. From 1905 until 1917 when he retired, he wore nothing but the Old English D.
While he is best known for the rare number of career triples he hit, as well as his single-season inside-the-park home run mark of 12 in 1901, he's also second all time for career insider-the-park home runs (51).
Crawford was the first player to lead both leagues in home runs, hitting 16 in 1901 for Cincinnati and a whopping seven for the Tigers in 1908.
He hit .309 for his career and nearly collected 3,000 hits, coming up just shy at 2,961. Crawford also had six seasons in which he reached the 100-plus RBI mark, with his personal best of 120 in 1910. He led the league in this category three times during his tenure with Detroit..
Crawford played in three World Series with the Tigers in 1907, 1908, and 1909. Unfortunately, Crawford never fared well in the Fall Classic, and the Tigers dropped all three chances to be world champions. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957 by the Veterans Committee.
No. 11 Hal Newhouser
Hal Newhouser is arguably the greatest pitcher in Tigers franchise history.
King Hal was as good as they came in the 1940s and 1950s. He was not only a great pitcher for the Tigers, he was one of the most prolific pitchers of his time.
From 1939 until 1953, Newhouser was the ace of the Tigers staff and a fan favorite in Detroit. In that span, he won 15 or more games seven times, including leading the American League four times with 29 wins in 1944, 25 in 1945, 26 in 1946 and 21 in 1948.
He finished his career with a record of 207-150, an impressive 3.06 ERA and 1,796 strikeouts.
Newhouser was the only pitcher to win back-to-back MVP awards. In 1944, he went 25-9 with a 1.81 ERA and 212 strikeouts. In 1945, he went 26-9 with a 1.94 ERA and 275 strikeouts, leading the league in wins and ERA.
Newhouser was a seven-time All-Star selection for the Tigers from 1942-1948. He also played an integral part on the Tigers 1945 World Championship, winning two games in the World Series, including Game 7. The Tigers retired Newhouser's No. 16 in 1997. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 by the Veteran's Committee.
No. 10 Prince Fielder
Prince Fielder will skyrocket the Tigers marketability in Motown and around the American League.
Jorge Lemus/Getty Images
Thought I'd float this one out there and see how far I could get with it. Yes, I realize he hasn't even put on the uniform yet, but his marketability has to be out of the stratosphere if he's making the kind of coin he's making to suit up every day for Detroit.
To be honest, the verdict is still out on Prince Fielder and his place in Tigers history. However, if his bite is as big as the Detroit bark that came with his arrival, it might be safe to say people will be talking about the Prince for a long time.
His arrival nearly two weeks ago came out of nowhere and the carnival-like attention to his homecoming has been overwhelming.
What's still to come is a bit unknown. What is known is that Fielder is capable of doing marvelous things for the Tigers' everyday lineup, including protecting slugger Miguel Cabrera. Fielder brings a lifetime .282 average to Detroit and a ton of raw power.
As Cabrera continues to increase his batting average, he's hit fewer home runs recently, which is fine with the Tigers if Fielder can pick up the slack. Based on his career marks of hitting no fewer than 28 home runs (2006) and as many as 50 (2007), it should be safe to assume that the long ball won't be an issue for Fielder in the American League.
What he also does for the Tigers as an organization is improve their bottom line by bringing more money into the organizational coffers. They'll need plenty of cash to pay him come pay day. But the Tigers are happy to do it.
They know that Fielder will put more fans in the seats at Comerica Park and bring more people to the city of Detroit, a win-win for everyone.
If he runs with it, he'll be adored. If he drops the ball, he'll be tormented by ghosts present and past.
No. 9 Charlie Gehringer
Charlie Gehringer is a a Baseball Hall of Fame member and one of the greatest to ever play second base.
Modern baseball fans might automatically choose Lou Whitaker as the best second basemen to play for the Tigers, but they would be wrong. While Whitaker had a stellar career, Charlie Gehringer was one of the best to play the game, period.
At second base, there may have been none greater than Gehringer.
Loyalty should count for something as well. He played his entire 19-year career with the Tigers, and from 1924 until 1942 Gehringer was nearly as big as the star that preceded him, Ty Cobb. Gehringer won the American League MVP in 1937, hitting a league-best .371 with 209 hits, while also scoring 133 runs and driving in 96.
"The Mechanical Man" had the perfect swing. Seven times Gehringer had more than 200 hits in a season, twice leading the league with 215 (1929) and 214 (1934). He also started the first six All-Star games ever, beginning in 1933, the inaugural year.
Gehringer led the Tigers to three AL pennants in 1934, 1935 and 1940. In 1935, the Tigers won it all and Gehringer was a key factor. His career totals include a .320 average, 2,839 hits, 1,774 runs scored, 184 homers and 1,427 RBI.
Gehringer was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949. The Tigers retired his No. 2 jersey in 1983.
No. 8 Hank Greenberg
Hammerin' Hank Greenberg was a prolific hitter for the Detroit Tigers.
Power hitters make baseball more exciting. Home runs thrill fans and bring them back for more. More home runs, more fans. More fans, more money. That's working the market.
If Hammerin' Hank Greenberg suited up for the modern-day Tigers, the expectation would be no less than it was in the 1930s and '40s. He'd still be expected to hit dingers. Some parts of the game never change.
Greenberg's career, although only nine seasons due to military service, is littered with a treasure chest of individual accomplishments as well as helping Detroit to win the 1935 and 1945 World Series.
He led the American League in RBI and home runs four times each, in doubles, walks and total bases twice, and in slugging percentage and runs scored once. That's leading the league in just about every offensive category that matters at least once in a career that lasted only nine years.
Greenberg also brought home the league's highest honor, winning the MVP in 1935 and 1940. He was an A.L. All-Star four times, and three other times was in consideration for the MVP award.
Hammerin' Hank was in 1940 what Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are in 2012, a good old-fashioned recipe for run production. His 58 homers in 1938 were two short of Babe Ruth's record. In 1937, Greenberg had 183 RBI, still one of the best marks ever in a single season.
He finished his career with a .313 batting average, 1,628 hits, 331 homers, 1,051 runs and 1,276 RBI. Greenberg was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1956. His No. 5 was retired by the Tigers in 1983.
No. 7 Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera is one of the most familiar faces in baseball and a perennial All-Star.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Miguel Cabrera is the modern-day Hank Greenberg.
He brings power and poise to the plate, hitting for average and power. Cabrera is arguably the best hitter in baseball right now. He covers so much of the plate with his bat that its nearly impossible for even the best pitchers in the American League to stop him. At the very least, they'll hope to contain him this season with Prince Fielder following right behind.
Cabrera is a highlight reel all his own. His home runs and deep-gap frozen ropes are what cameramen live for. He doesn't disappoint.
Entering his 10th season, Cabrera is on top of his game and set to reach the next level. He's knocked on the MVP door more than once and now needs that career season to get there.
He should have greater protection with Fielder behind him in the batting order, and with the move to the No. 3 spot, he'll see better pitches to hit and get intentionally walked a lot less. All of these factors should again improve his batting average in 2012.
Since joining Detroit in 2008, Cabrera has a been lights out, hitting for a .322 average and .571 slugging percentage. He also has 461 RBI to go with his 305 extra-base hits. His .344 average last season was tops in the league, and he's led the A.L. the past two seasons in on-base percentage, at .420 and .488, respectively. His offensive numbers are staggering.
Cabrera will have some new admirers this season at Comerica Park. Season-ticket holders who have watched him from afar at first base will now get a more up-close and personal look at Cabrera's defensive prowess as he makes the change to third base. No worries, he's up to the task.
No. 6 Sparky Anderson
Sparky Anderson breathed life back into the Tigers organization in the late 1970's.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
George "Sparky" Anderson couldn't have had a more appropriate nickname when he came to the Tigers in 1979. The only spark the Tigers had the year before was Lou Whitaker's Rookie of the Year season. For several years before that, there was little, if any, spark at all.
Anderson quickly turned that around. In 1984, his Tigers had the best start in the history of the game, going 35-5 and never looking back.
It was Anderson's third world championship as a manager, making him the first manager to win a World Series in both the National and American leagues. He won two with the Cincinnati Reds.
Anderson's smile and affable demeanor made him a fan favorite who was staunchly supported by his players. Anderson didn't over-coach. He let the game unravel as it should, only influencing things when absolutely necessary.
Most times, he just let his players play. In Detroit, he had some good ones: Chet Lemon, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish, Larry Herndon, Lou Whitaker, Darrell Evans, Jack Morris, Petry, Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez. The Tigers had plenty of talent to win and Anderson didn't get in the way.
In his 26-year managing career, all with the Reds and Tigers, Anderson won five pennants and three World Series. He finished with a .545 winning percentage, winning 2,194 games, 1,331 during his 17 years with the Tigers.
In 2000, Anderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager by the Veteran's Committee. In honor of Anderson's distinguished career, the Tigers last summer embossed "Sparky" on the brick wall just right of center field at Comerica Park.
Sparky loved the Old English D.
No. 5 Ernie Harwell
Ernie Harwell is one of the greatest voices of all time in sports radio.
Ernie Harwell is so special that he deserves his own list. Truly, no one else is in his company. He is the type of person you meet once in a lifetime (if you're lucky), a class act unto himself only. For purposes herein, he can simply be called Ernie. He'd prefer it that way.
Ernie endured and prospered for 55 years in the broadcast business, 42 spent with the Tigers. Ernie called thousands of games on radio and/or television while millions of Tigers fans listened on the airwaves. In January 2009, the American Sportscasters Association ranked him 16th on its list of Top 50 Sportscasters of All Time.
It's best to remember Ernie exactly how he'd want to be remembered, calling a Tigers game on a clear, sunny July afternoon. The smell of hot dogs and popcorn in the air and that Southern drawl coming from the speaker box recounting another Tigers victory. Fans will reckon back to:
"It's two for the price of one!" Ernie would often state after a great 4-6-3 double play from Whitaker to Trammell.
"That one is long gone!" This was Ernie's trademark home-run call, which sounded more like loooong gone!
"He stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by." Harwell would always chirp after a batter was hung up on a called third strike.
"Called out for excessive window shopping." Another one of Harwell's quips on a called third strike.
Finally, a fan favorite was Ernie's calling out of foul balls, "A [insert sponsor's name] fan from [insert a city] will be taking that ball home today."
Whatever the choice of words, it never really mattered as long as they were coming from Ernie. Ernie wore the Old English D on his heart.
No. 4 Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander earned his second career no-hitter in 2011, as well as the American League MVP and Cy Young awards.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Justin Verlander is one of the hottest commodities in the baseball world. If we're talking about marketability, you don't have to go any further than the lead stallion that the Tigers have in their barn.
Since making his splash in 2006, Verlander has quickly taken over as the premier pitcher in the American League. After a disappointing 2008, which saw him lose a league-high 17 games, he bounced back to lead the league in wins with 19 the following season. Last year, he led the A.L. again with a record of 24-5.
Verlander is a power pitcher. Hometown fans love to watch power pitchers strike out opposing batters. Tigers fans are no different, and with Verlander they get a lot of what they like.
In his short six-year career, Verlander already has 1,215 strikeouts, including leading the league in 2009 and 2011 with 269 and 250, respectively. Verlander has struck out at least 200 in each of the last three seasons. He gives his fans what they want to see, and that's total domination on the mound.
The 2012 season was historic for Verlander. To repeat it would be near impossible. He won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2006, and the A.L Cy Young and MVP winner in 2001. So what else does he have left to achieve?
The answer is pretty simple. Can he do it again?
A better question might be—can he be even better? This coming season will be pivotal for Verlander. Another Cy Young-caliber season will solidify him as the best pitcher in the league, now and for the foreseeable future.
No. 3 Al Kaline
Al Kaline came straight out of Baltimore's Southern High School to the Tigers and the rest is history.
Al Kaline is decidedly one of the greatest players to ever don the Old English D. He is, after all, Mr. Tiger, and probably the most loved player in franchise history.
Kaline spent his entire 22-year career (1953-1974) with the Tigers, playing mostly in right field, Kaline's Corner. In 1955, he became the youngest player to win the AL batting title with an average of .340. Kaline also helped the Tigers win their first World Series in more than 20 years when Detroit beat St. Louis in a seven-game barn-burner in 1968.
He was a 15-time American League All-Star selection and his playing accolades were many. He was a 10-time Gold Glove winner, Top 10 in AL MVP voting nine times, finishing second twice. His career totals include a .297 batting average, 3,007 hits and 399 home runs. Kaline also scored 1,622 runs and knocked in 1,583 RBI..
Kaline also did color commentary for Detroit with good friend George Kell for many years on the Tigers' television productions. Still today, Kaline works as a special assistant to president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, providing expert advice on player development and personnel matters.
Kaline's No. 6 was retired by the Tigers in 1983. He was a first-time ballot selection to the Hall of Fame in 1980. He has been and continues to be the living symbol of Detroit Tigers baseball.
No. 2 Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb is arguably the greatest player to ever play the game.
In a different era, Ty Cobb would have been raised under a different value system and ultimately may not have tarnished what was the finest baseball career of anyone to play the game. But his racism will forever cast a shadow on his otherwise brilliant career.
He was the first player selected for induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. There is a reason for that. He is the greatest to ever play the game.
Craziness aside, play with reckless abandon aside, hatred of everyone other than himself aside, Cobb was lightning in a bottle foul pole to foul pole. Blazingly fast and wonderfully gifted at the plate, he was a complete player in a time when most players only had one or two facets to their game. Cobb was simply a man in the wrong time period.
Yet, he played when he played, and this is why he's the best. Check out these career stats.
Games: 3,035 At-Bats: 11,429 Runs: 2,245 Hits: 4,191
Doubles: 723 Triples: 297 Home Runs: 117 RBI: 1,938
Stolen Bases: 892 Walks: 1,249 Strikeouts: 357
Batting Average: .367 On-Base Percentage: .433
Slugging Percentage: .513 Total Bases: 5,859
Let me know when you find someone better than the Georgia Peach.
No. 1 the Franchise
The Detroit Tigers have one of the most storied franchise histories in all of professional sports.
When it comes to marketing a team, it takes great players to sell the product. In Detroit, it's no different. Twenty-five players were rank-ordered based on their significance to the organization.
The Tigers are one of the American League's first eight teams (charters) and began operation in 1894. The team's endurance alone is impressive n a city that has seen more than its fair share of economic downturns, race riots and poverty. Yet one of the very symbols of the city's existence has refused to whiter on the vine and instead continues to happily greet fans each springy. This organizational resilience earns the Tigers the list's No. 1 ranking.
Think about the memories created by the 25 listed players. Think about their effect on Tigers baseball history. Think about the effect any one of them had on you.
These men of Detroit were amazing and that's without players such as Norm Cash, Mickey Cochran, Mickey Lolich, Harry Heilmann, Heini Manush, Kenny Rogers, Guillermo (Willie) Hernandez, Bobby Higginson, Roger Craig, and the great Willie Horton who didn't make the list.
Like on every such list, they were among those who didn't make the cut.. It happens in Lakeland all the time.
At the end of the day, the Tigers are not represented so much by all these great players, but by the fact that they all have at least one thing in common—the Old English D.