Team 104: The 1953 Tigers

Blake VandeBunteContributor INovember 1, 2009

DETROIT - JULY 3:  Al Kaline, former Detroit Tiger and a hall of famer, takes part in a ceremony to unvail the covers for the 2005 All-Star game programs before the game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers on July 3, 2005 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Yankess defeated the Tigers 1-0.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

              1953 Detroit Tigers Statistics:

  • Year: 1953
  • Record: 60-94
  • Win Percentage: .390
  • Win Percentage Change: +65
  • Run Differential: -228
  • Pythagorean Record: 57-97
  • AL Finish: 6th of 8 teams
  • Manager: Fred Hutchinson

 

Best Transaction:  On June 19, 1953 (just three months after my dad was born), the Tigers began their relationship with a man that is still involved with the club, Al Kaline. 

Kaline was signed as a free agent on that day and made his big league debut that same year at the age of only 18.  Kaline would go on to slug 399 home runs and collect over 3,000 big league hits, all with the Tigers.  So, yeah, I think this one goes in the “good” column.


Worst Transaction: Some of these early seasons just didn’t feature a lot of transactions.  There really wasn’t any free agency period since players were tied to their teams for life because of the reserve clause. 

This isn’t much of a criticism, but in 1953 the Tigers released Hall of Fame pitcher, Hal Newhouser.  Newhouser was only 32, but had been in the big leagues since he was 18 years old.  He had an ERA over 7.00 in 21+ innings of work.  The lanky lefty won two MVP awards with the Tigers and led the league in wins four times while with the Tigers. 

He hung on in Cleveland for 49 combined innings in 1954 and 1955 before calling it quits.

 

Upper: Things were getting better for the Tigers.  They were coming off of a 104 loss season the year before.  This 1953 team, while still really bad (their run differential was worse than the 104 loss team), featured plenty of young talent. You had the 18-year-old Kaline, Harvey Kuenn was only 22, Bob Nieman was 26, and Ray Boone wasn't yet 30. 

This was also a team that got better as the season progressed.  You may recall that the 1952 Tigers collapsed down the stretch, winning only 15 games after the All-Star break.  The 1953 team limped out of the gate but picked things up after the break.  The young Tigers pieced together a 33-37 record after the break and were heading in the right direction as the calendar turned to 1954.

 

Downer: The pitching just didn’t get the job done in 1953.  The staff was a mix-and-match group of old and young.  An aging Hal Newhouser was pushed out midway through the year and former All-Star Virgil Trucks was traded before the start of the season. 

No pitching staff in the American League gave up more runs, hits, or home runs than the Tigers group.  This group was so ineffective, that no pitcher throwing more than 10 innings (there were 18 of them) had an ERA+ above the 100 mark.

 

Summary:   This team had all the makings of a future offensive power.  The young bats would have time to mature and many of them would end up doing some serious damage in a Tigers uniform. 

However, the pitching was still a long ways off. 

The team also struggled at the gate, finishing fifth in the American League in attendance.  That’s always been a constant in Detroit, apparently:  When the team is good people show, if they are bad, no one bothers. 

The 1953 season was the first of four consecutive seasons in which the club improved its win total from the previous season.

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