This profile has been by far my most difficult to choose. There have been many Tigers to don the No. 4, and frankly speaking, I was doing my best to avoid spotlighting one particular player, though he was, at one time, one of my favorites.
Alas, the names of Adam Everett, Dale Alexander, Charlie Maxwell, Mike Laga, and Tony Phillips just didn’t excite the imagination.
Goose Goslin would have maybe been the choice, but he played a relatively short time in Detroit. Aurelio Rodriguez also gets a mention for his fine defensive skills at third base.
Then of course there was Bobby Higginson. He was the player I was trying to avoid, maybe just because I couldn’t bring myself to re-live the final few, painfully brutal, years of his career, or maybe just his era of Tigers teams as a whole.
Instead of all those, our No.4 is Rudy York.
York was a 20-year-old catcher when he made his big league debut in 1934 with the Tigers. He played in only three games that season, getting one hit in six at bats. Blocked at catcher by Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, he wouldn’t make another appearance in the major leagues until 1937.
While he was waiting for his next chance with the Tigers, he won back-to-back MVP awards in the minor leagues, winning the Texas League honor in 1935, and again the next year in the American Association.
Upon his return arrival in Detroit in 1937, York announced his presence with authority. In only 375 at bats that season, he belted an amazing 35 home runs with 103 RBI, and posted an astounding OPS of 1.026.
Included in that total was an 18 home run month of August. A feat that stood as the record for any single month until June of 2000, when Sammy Sosa hit 20 bombs. York also knocked in 49 runs in that amazing month.
York made his first all-star team in 1938, following up his remarkable rookie campaign with an equally impressive sophomore season. He finished that year with 33 HR 127 RBI and a .995 OPS. He was primarily a catcher, but was never regarded for his defense. He also played third base and first base during his first three seasons.
York’s poor defense coupled with his fantastic bat prompted the team to shift him to first base full-time starting in 1940, moving Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg to the outfield to make room.
Over the next six seasons, York provided the foundation for a group of very good Tigers teams, capped off with a World Championship in 1945.
York played nine full seasons with the Tigers before being traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1946 in exchange for shortstop Eddie Lake. During his time in Detroit, York amassed 239 home runs and 936 RBI.
He was the only major leaguer to hit at least 15 home runs in each of the 1945 and 1946 seasons, when he hit 18 and 17 respectively. This was partially due to the poor materials used to make the baseballs, and the loss of several top hitters to war efforts during that time.
York was a seven-time All-Star, five of those coming with the Tigers. He lead the American League in homers and RBI in 1943, when he finished third in the MVP voting.
His 239 home runs are the seventh highest total in team history, he ranks 11th in RBI, and his slugging average of .503 places him fourth, behind only Greenberg, Harry Heilmann, and Ty Cobb.
York’s career ended after the 1948 season. He later became a coach with the Red Sox and managed several seasons in the minor leagues.
For more information on York’s astounding August of 1937, see an article found here. It is written by Lee Panas of Tiger Tales and gives an in-depth look at one of the more remarkable feats in major league history.