Detroit Tigers: Fielding an All-Time Roster

Ryan Bourdeau@@ryanbourdeauCorrespondent IIAugust 7, 2011

Detroit Tigers: Fielding an All-Time Roster

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    From 1894 to 2011 there have been 1,545 different men to wear a Detroit Tigers uniform. 

    What I am going to list is a lineup of only the cream of the crop of those men at their given positions, to form an All-Time roster that would rival any other organization's. 

    We've got Hall of Famers, league MVP's, Cy Young winners and World Series Champs galore, so put on your favorite Old English "D" cap and enjoy.  Bless these boys.

Manager: Sparky Anderson

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    When Sparky Anderson came to the Tigers in the spring of 1979, he boldly stated that they would win a pennant within the next five years.  Sparky's arrival resulted in a winning attitude that produced improvement and results almost immediately. 

    Detroit finished above .500 in each of his first four seasons. Heading into the 1984 season he was quoted as saying "We're not good. We're great."  And a record-pace 35-5 start proved him right.  He led the Tigers to the AL pennant, winning 104 games.  Detroit led their division from opening day to the last game of the year, culminating in a World Series Championship—the first team to do so since the 1927 Yankees

    Sparky is sixth all-time in managerial wins (1331 with Detroit) and was the first manager to win 100 games in a season in both the American and National Leagues.  He was also the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

    Sparky was always good for a classic sound bite.  Here are a couple gems:

    "Me carrying a briefcase is like a hot-dog wearing earrings."

    "I only had a high school education, and, believe me, I had to cheat to get that."

    "We averaged 96 wins my nine years in Cincinnati. We had Bench, Rose, Morgan, Perez, Foster, Griffey, Concepcion and Geronimo. Imagine what I could have done if they (the Reds front office) had given me some players!"

Starting Pitcher No. 1: Hal Newhouser

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    Born and raised in Detroit, Hal Newhouser played 15 seasons with the Tigers and is widely considered the best pitcher of the World War II era.  His breakout season came in 1944 when he posted a 29-9 record, leading the league in wins and strikeouts (187).  He also finished second in the league in ERA, complete games and shutouts, en route to becoming the AL MVP. 

    He repeated as AL MVP in 1945, becoming the first and only pitcher to accomplish that feat.  He won the pitcher's Triple Crown that year leading the league in wins (25), ERA (1.81) and strikeouts (212).  He also led the league in innings pitched, games started, complete games and shutouts.  He then pitched two games in the World Series, including earning the win in Game Seven.  Newhouser narrowly missed out on a third consecutive MVP in 1946, finishing second to Ted Williams with a 26-9 record and a 1.94 ERA.

    "Prince Hal" finished his Tigers career with a 200-148 record, seven All-Star selections, two AL MVPs, one World Series title, his #16 retired in the Motor City and a plaque in Cooperstown.

Starting Pitcher No. 2: Mickey Lolich

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    Mickey Lolich played 13 seasons for the Tigers and holds many team records, including games started (459), shutouts (39) and strikeouts (2,679).  He ranks third in career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher, behind only Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.

    Lolich is probably best known for his Herculean effort in the 1968 World Series.  He pitched three complete games in that Series, allowing only five total runs.  He won the series clinching game and also hit the first and only home run of his 16 year career in Game Two.  He was awarded the World Series MVP for his work.

    He won 14 or more games for 10 consecutive seasons from 1964-1974, before struggling for a declining Tigers team in 1975 and being dealt to the Mets.  He was never quite the same after that, retiring from baseball for good after the 1979 season. 

    He credits not having won a Cy Young as the reason for him not yet being elected to the Hall of Fame (although he finished second in the Cy Young voting to Gaylord Perry in 1972, after posting 308 strikeouts).  One certainly hopes that the voters come to their senses and give Lolich the enshrinement he deserves.

Starting Pitcher No. 3: Jack Morris

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    Jack Morris was the winning-est pitcher of the 1980's.  He was drafted by the Tigers in the fifth round of the 1976 draft and broke onto the scene in 1979, posting a 17-7 record.  He went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform. 

    Morris ranks second in Tigers history with 1,980 K’s, in a large part due to the fact that he was one of the pioneers of the split-fingered fastball that is widely used today.  His fiery attitude and nasty stuff on the mound made him one of the most feared pitchers of his generation.

    He was a large part of the 1984 World Series team, having won a game in the ALCS against the Royals before winning two more against the Padres, resulting in a Championship ring and the Babe Ruth Award as the player with the best performance in the World Series.  He also threw a no-hitter that same season against the Chicago White Sox in a nationally televised game on April 7th, 1984. 

    He continued to have success with the Tigers for the next four seasons. He posted 15 or more wins in each campaign before suffering a couple bad years, but ended up being a huge part of three more World Series titles with the Twins and Blue Jays.

Starting Pitcher No. 4: Denny McLain

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    Denny McLain's career is perhaps one of the most prolific, and infamous, in Detroit Tigers history.  McLain made his Major League debut on September 21st in spectacular fashion.  Not only did he beat the Chicago White Sox, he held them to only one run, picked off two base runners and hit the first and only home run of his career.  The rest of his career was no less newsworthy.

    He posted very respectable numbers through 1967 before exploding in the 1968 season with a 31-6 record, a 1.96 ERA, an All-Star selection, the AL Cy Young award, the AL MVP award and a World Series title. His 31 wins made him the first pitcher in 34 years to win at least 30 games in a season—and the last one to accomplish it since.  He was also the first man to win the AL Cy Young and MVP in the same season.  He repeated as Cy Young winner in 1969.

    His career was unfortunately derailed by arm problems and countless run-ins with the law.  His gambling addictions were well documented and following his playing career he spent multiple stints in both prison and rehab.  If not for his off-field issues he may be much higher on this list.  He went 117-62 in his eight years as a Tiger.

Starting Pitcher No. 5: Justin Verlander

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    This selection is projecting a little bit, but I feel very confident that by the end of his career Justin Verlander will be not only be deserving of a spot in this rotation, but maybe even a higher spot.

    When Verlander was selected second overall in the 2004 entry draft by Detroit, expectations were high.  JV got to work early, meeting those expectations by winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in his first full season in 2006.  He posted a 17-9 record and became the first rookie pitcher in the history of the game to win 10 games before the end of June.  He also led the Tigers to their first World Series appearance since 1984. He made the record books again by being a part of the first World Series Game One started by two rookies (the other being Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals).

    His success continued in 2007 as he racked up 18 more wins, posting a 3.66 ERA with 183 strikeouts in 201.2 innings. On June 12th Verlander recorded a no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers, striking out 12 batters and hitting 102 MPH on the radar gun in the ninth inning

    He has already posted 98 wins in about five and a half seasons—and already has more than 1000 strikeouts.  On May 7th, 2011 he threw his second career no-hitter against the Blue Jays (a game I am proud to say I attended).  He is really a threat to throw a no-no every time he takes the mound.

    His fastball routinely reaches triple digits late in games, his curveball is one of the best in the league, his changeup will buckle the best hitters' knees and he now features an above average slider as well.  By the time his career is over it would be a great disappointment if Justin Verlander is not mentioned as one of, if not THE greatest pitcher of his generation.

Catcher: Lance Parrish

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    Lance "Big Wheel" Parrish played parts of 10 seasons in Detroit and was a major part of the 1984 World Series Championship team.  He was drafted by the Tigers in the first round of the 1974 entry draft as a third baseman, but was quickly converted to a catcher during his stint in the minors. And he certainly made the most of that opportunity. 

    He caught Jack Morris' no-hitter against the White Sox early in the 1984 season and had a career year at the plate, with 33 home runs and 98 RBI in the cleanup spot.  He also hit a home run in the deciding Game Five of the World Series.  His 212 home runs in Detroit rank him first among Tigers catchers.

    Parrish won three Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards as a Tiger and represented Detroit in six All-Star games.

First Base: Hank Greenberg

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    At a position that features names like "Big Daddy" Cecil Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Norm Cash, it takes a special player to start ahead of those men.  Hank Greenberg is that player. 

    Greenberg is arguably the greatest hitter in Tigers history.  He holds the Tigers' record for most home runs in a season, with 58 in 1938.  One year earlier he drove in 183 RBI, the third highest total in MLB history, behind only Lou Gehrig's 184 and Hack Wilson's 191.  He also set a Major League record in 1935 by collecting 103 RBI at the All-Star break, a record that still stands today. 

    Greenberg was the first Jewish superstar in American professional sports.  He famously refused to play on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, in 1934—even though the Tigers were deep in a pennant race.  He was also well known as one of the few opposing players to openly welcome Jackie Robinson to the Majors.

    From 1934-1941, after multiple seasons at or near the top of every major batting statistic, Greenberg's career was interrupted by serving in World War II. There he displayed the same greatness that he showed on the baseball field, as his 45 months served was the longest by any Major League player.

    He homered in his first game back after the war in the summer of 1945, without the benefit of spring training.  He clinched the AL pennant for the Tigers that season, avoiding a one game playoff with a grand slam, in the dark, in the ninth inning of the last game of the year. The Tigers would eventually win the World Series that year, defeating the Cubs in seven games—thanks in large part to more great play from Greenberg. 

    "Hammerin" Hank was a five time All-Star, won the AL MVP award twice (’35 and ’40), won two World Series ('35 and '45), has his No. 5 retired by the Tigers and was the first Jewish player to be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer

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    Born in Fowlerville, Michigan, “The Mechanical Man” was a rock for the Tigers for 19 seasons. He was discovered by lenegdary Tiger outfielder Bobby Veach while playing at the University of Michigan. Veach brought him over to Detroit to show then player/manager Ty Cobb what he could do. Cobb convinced owner Frank Navin to sign him on the spot.

    He played his entire career in Detroit and his lifetime .320 average ranks sixth on the Tigers' all-time list. Charlie rates extremely high for the Tigers in most offensive categories: .398 on-base percentage (fourth), 2,839 hits (third), 574 doubles (second), 1,774 runs (second), 146 triples (third), 1,427 RBI’s (fourth) and 181 steals (ninth). He ranks third in at-bats and total bases, and fourth in games played.

    Charlie's defensive abilities were just as impressive. He had the highest fielding percentage and the most assists by a second baseman seven times in his career. He earned All-Star honors six times, won the 1937 AL MVP when he hit .371 and helped carry the Tigers to the 1935 World Series championship. Legendary Negro Leaguer Satchel Paige said Charlie was the best white hitter he’d ever pitched against.

    Gehringer played over 1,000 games with double play partner and shortstop Billy Rogell, making them one of the longest tenured combinations in league history. In 1999, Sports Illustrated ranked the 50 Greatest Sports Figures from Michigan. SI ranked The Mechanical Man third behind Joe Louis and Magic Johnson. Gehringer’s No. 2 will never be worn again by a Detroit Tiger, as it was retired in 1983. He was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1949.

Shortstop: Alan Trammell

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    Alan Trammell was one half of the longest tenured double play combination in Major League history.  Along with Lou Whitaker, "Tram" patrolled the middle of the infield in Detroit like none other.  An uncanny mix of offensive power and consistency to go with his defensive greatness is something Tigers fans will not soon forget.

    Over his 20 year career as a Tiger, Trammell amassed some very impressive numbers.  He hit .285 over 2,293 games (fifth all-time), homered 185 times (13th), stole 236 bases (fifth), had 412 doubles (sixth), 1,231 runs (sixth), 1,003 RBI’s (10th) and 2,365 hits (seventh).  He also won three Silver Slugger awards.  No other Tigers shortstop can compare.

    On the defensive side of the field Tram was no less skilled.  He finished his career with four Gold Gloves and, paired with Lou Whitaker, holds the distinction of setting the Major League record by turning more double plays than any other shortstop-second baseman combination in the long history of professional baseball. 

    He was a six-time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP and deserves to be in Cooperstown along with Whitaker.

Third Base: George Kell

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    You were maybe expecting Brandon Inge?  Sorry Brandon, but George Kell is far and away the best third baseman in the history of the Tigers—even though he only had a relatively short tenure in Detroit.  In his seven seasons in Detroit, Kell managed to hit .325, a mark which ranks fourth on the team’s all-time list. 

    He represented the Motor City in six All-Star games and also has the distinction of going 2-for-3 in the final game of the 1949 season, denying Ted Williams his third Triple Crown.  Kell won the batting title that year, also setting a Major League record for the least amount of strikeouts by a batting champ with 13.  He hit over .300 every year he played in Detroit.

    Many Tiger fans will remember him as the play-by-play television announcer for the Detroit Tigers from '59-'63 and '65-’96 (37 years).  He was in the booth to call the 1984 World Series championship season.

    He was voted to the Hall of Fame in 1983. Though his number is not retired by the Tigers, his name is displayed on the wall at Comerica Park to honor his contributions to the Tiger organization. He also entered the Hall of Fame as a Detroit Tiger, and his plaque in the Hall shows him wearing the Tiger cap.

Left Field: Al Kaline

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    “Mr. Tiger” played his entire 22-year career with the Detroit Tigers and may very well be the most beloved player in Tiger history. 

    Kaline actually skipped the minor leagues altogether and came to the Tigers straight out of high school as an 18-year-old, making his debut during the 1953 season.  He switched from No. 25 to No. 6 after the '53 season and wore it every game thereafter, earning him the nickname "Six" in the clubhouse.  That No. 6 was the first number retired in the long history of the Tigers.

    His 1955 season was a legendary one, as he batted .340 and became the youngest player to ever win the American League batting title at age 20.  He also became the youngest player to hit three home runs in a game and accumulate 200 hits in one season, although he came close numerous other times.  He finished second in the AL MVP voting to Yogi Berra and was named to the first of 13 straight All-Star games (he made 15 total).

    Kaline could do it in the field as well.  He led the league in outfield assists in both 1956 and 1958, and was known for his rocket arm and great speed.  Those attributes led him to 10 Gold Glove awards.

    In his only World Series appearance, Kaline hit .379 with two home runs and eight RBIs in seven games, to help lead the Tigers to the 1968 championship.  He became the 12th player in Major League history to reach the 3,000 hit plateau in 1974 and finished his career with 3,007 hits (second on the Tigers all-time list), 399 home runs (first) and 1583 RBI (second).

    Kaline was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980, becoming the tenth player in history to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.

Right Field: Harry Heilmann

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    Harry "Slug" Heilmann was certainly not known for his defensive skill or speed (hence the nickname Slug), but he is one of the greatest hitters in Major League history.  He is best known as being the only American League player—other than Ted Williams—to hit over .400 for an entire season, when he hit .403 in 1923.

    Heilmann missed some playing time during the 1918 season as he joined the U.S. Navy during World War I.  When he returned to baseball in 1919, he ended the season batting over .300 (he hit .320) for the first of 12 consecutive seasons.  He won the first of his four batting titles in 1921 when his average skyrocketed to .394, in part due to some pointers from none other than Ty Cobb. 

    Slug continued to crush the ball for the next eight seasons in a Tigers uniform, collecting three more batting titles and continually finishing among the leaders in every offensive category year after year.  Heilmann averaged 220 hits, 110 runs, 45 doubles, 12 triples, 16 homers and 130 RBI per 154 games in the 1920's.

    Heilmann’s .518 slugging percentage is second only to Hank Greenberg on Detroit’s all-time list, while his 2,499 hits rank fourth.  After his retirement in 1932, he worked as the Tigers play-by-play man from 1934-1950, before he died of lung cancer in 1951.  He was named to the Hall of Fame six months later.  In 2000, the Detroit Tigers placed his name in Comerica Park among the other Tiger greats, to honor his contributions to the organization.

Center Field: Ty Cobb

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    “The Georgia Peach” was anything but a peach, on and off the diamond. While playing semi-pro ball as a teenager in Tennessee, Cobb drummed up fake publicity about his baseball skills and leaked them to the Atlanta Journal. It worked, however, as he got noticed, signed with the Tigers and quite simply became the greatest Tiger of all time.

    Three weeks before his debut with Detroit, his mother was suspected of cheating on his father, so his father sneaked up to the bedroom window to catch her in the act.  Thinking it was an intruder, Mrs. Cobb blew his head off with a shotgun. Cobb later attributed his ferocious play to the death of his father, saying, "I did it for my father. He never got to see me play...but I knew he was watching me, and I never let him down."  Cobb was also an extreme racist off the field.

    Despite all of his personality faults, Cobb was often considered part of a two-horse race for the best baseball player of his generation, along with Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner. Both Cobb and Wagner are conservatively considered among the best baseball players of any era.

    Cobb set 90 records during his playing career, several of which still stand today. His lifetime .367 batting average is still a major league best, as are his 12 batting titles. Cobb hit over .300 in 23 consecutive seasons, a major league record that will never be broken. Ty holds the record for most career steals of home plate with 54.  Four times in his career he made it to first base only to steal second, third and then home.

    He is third all-time in stolen bases in MLB history behind Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock with 892, second to Pete Rose in hits with 4,191 and second to Rickey Henderson in runs with 2,245. Cobb leads all Tigers in at-bats (10,586), hits (3,902), batting average (.369), runs (2,087), doubles (664), triples (286), RBI’s (1,805), stolen bases (865), on base percentage (.424) and total bases (5,471). He is second to Al Kaline in games played with 2,806. Cobb also struck out just 329 times while with the Tigers. Perhaps the finest season of Cobb’s career was in 1911, when he hit .420 with 47 doubles, 24 triples, eight homers, 147 runs, 127 RBI’s, 248 hits and 83 stolen bases.

    In 1936 Cobb was voted to the inaugural Hall of Fame class, with an unbelievable 98.2% of the vote.