MLB 9s: Detroit Tigers—Did Ty Cobb Have The Best Offensive Season Ever?

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst INovember 18, 2009

One question, hundreds of answers. Which member of the Detroit Tigers had the greatest offensive season at his position?

Major League baseball has been asking fans this same question in an effort to choose each team's best-ever collection of stars. They are calling it MLB 9s.

Did Ty Cobb have the greatest offensive season in the history of the game back in 1911? Just how good were the 1937 Detroit Tigers? Was Alan Trammell better than Carlos Guillen? Does Gary Sheffield deserve a spot as the DH?

Here I have separated the contenders from the pretenders in an effort to pick my dream Tigers lineup. Have your say by commenting below or by voting on the MLB site here .

My other MLB 9s you might want to check out are:

Diamondbacks , Braves , Orioles , Red Sox , Cubs , White Sox , Reds , Indians , Rockies , Marlins , Royals , Angels , Dodgers , Twins , Mets , and Yankees.

Catcher: Rudy York (1937)

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As far as Tigers’ catchers go, York stands head and shoulders above the rest. Pudge Rodriguez may have the popular vote right now, but he shouldn’t have. Let me make the case for York.

In his first full season, York hit 35 home runs in 104 games. He recorded 103 RBI and posted a batting average of .307. His .651 slugging percentage was third best in the American League, while his home run rate of one per every 10.7 at bats was almost a whole game better than Joe DiMaggio.

Just think what numbers he could have posted in a full season. Considering the era he played in, York’s 1937 season is the best by any Tigers’ backstop by a long way.

Highlight Game: July 5, 1937 vs. Chicago White Sox. York hit his first walk-off home run of his career against Clint Brown in the bottom of the tenth inning in the nightcap of a double-header.

His three-run blast gave the Tigers a 7-4 victory.

Competition: Pudge Rodriguez was not the same catcher as the man who won the MVP with Texas.

His numbers were good, but they certainly weren’t amazing. 19 home runs and a .510 slugging percentage doesn’t set the world alight. In fact, the only standout number is his .334 batting average.

Hit 86 RBI and 72 runs aren’t great either, considering he played 135 games, although this is more a product of the Detroit team.

Matt Nokes and, to a lesser extent, Mickey Tettleton, also deserve a mention for the power bats they wielded during the 1987 and 1991 seasons respectively, hitting 32 and 31 each.

First Base: Hank Greenberg (1937)

Greenberg is the best hitting first baseman the Tigers have ever seen, without question.

The Hall-of-Famer won two MVP awards, and I think there’s an argument to be made for him winning it again in his 1937 season.

After missing all but a few games of the ’36 season, Greenberg returned with authority in 1937, drilling 40 home runs and driving in an AL-leading 183 batters.

He batted .337 and slugged .668, ranking second in the league in total bases (397), doubles (49), home runs (40), and walks (102).

His 103 extra base hits, 187 RBI, and 397 total bases are all franchise records.

Highlight Game: September 2, 1937 vs. Washington. Greenberg had his second multi-home run game of the season, going deep twice in a 9-8 extra-innings victory.

After taking Jimmie DeShong deep for his 31st home run of the year in the year in the fourth inning, Greenberg walked off with a solo shot in the bottom of the tenth.

Competition: You could say that he is his own competition. His MVP season of 1935 was clearly fantastic, and the 58 home runs and 144 runs from the 1938 campaign are also very compelling. Even his second MVP year of 1940 could beat all but the very best competitors.

I am going to give Norm Cash my second place vote. In 1961 he led the league in hits (193), batting average (.361) and on-base percentage (.487).

He hit 41 home runs, batted in 132, and walked 124 times. His 41 home runs still ranks as the most by any left-handed Tiger in history, while his .662 slugging percentage is the franchise record for a leftie.

Second Base: Charlie Gehringer (1937)

Charlie Gehringer is the third straight position player in my rankings to be chosen solely on the strength of his 1937 season.

That is fairly odd considering ’37 was one of the years in that dominant spell between 1934 and 1945 where they weren’t the best team in baseball.

Gehringer—inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949—won the AL MVP in 1937, beating out teammate Hank Greenberg and Yankee stars Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey.

He batted .371, scored 133 runs, and walked on 90 occasions. He also hit 40 doubles and 14 home runs, and he stole 11 bases. His on-base percentage of .458 was second in the league, while his 300 times on base was good enough for third.

Highlight Game: August 14, 1937 vs. St Louis Browns. In the second game of a double-header, Gehringer had his only multi-home run game of the season. He went yard off of Bill Trotter in the first and second inning to record his fourth home run in three days.

He would hit seven home runs in August alone. He only hit seven in total between April and July.

Competition: Lou Whitaker and Damion Easley have both had decent seasons at second base for Detroit.

Whitaker’s ’83 season saw him bat .320 with 94 runs and 17 stolen bases, while Easley’s contributions in 1998 amounted to 27 home runs, 100 RBI and 15 steals.

Third Base: Travis Fryman (1997)

George Kell and Ray Boone? Pfff, I’m going to go completely against the grain here and go with Fryman.

Is it a slap in the face of those who played in the 1950s? Maybe. I’m not trying to show bias towards players from a more recent era, I just honestly think he had better one better offensive season.

In ’97 Fryman recorded his second consecutive season of 20-plus home runs and triple-digit RBI. In fact, his 1997 campaign was almost identical to 1996.

He finished with 22 home runs, 102 RBI, and 16 stolen bases. He also scored 90 runs and batted .274.

Highlight Game: September 12, 1997 @ Oakland. Fryman went 4-for-5 with a home run, a pair of runs, and two RBI in a 7-2 victory against the As.

Competition: There’s clearly a lot of competition here, although not a lot of good options.

Dean Palmer hit 38 home runs in 1999, but had a weaker batting average than Fryman and 13 fewer steals. George Kell had a .340 batting average in 1950, but lacked any sort of power. Ray Boone was similar to Fryman with 20 home runs, 116 RBI, and a .284 batting average, but he lacked speed.

Unfortunately there’s just no one with that mix of power, speed and average that I was looking for.

Shortstop: Alan Trammell (1987)

Trammell did a little bit of everything in his 11th year with the Tigers, finishing second in the AL MVP voting to hard-swinging Toronto left-fielder George Bell.

Trammell set career highs in batting average (.343), home runs (28), runs scored (109), and runs batted in (105), leading the Tigers to first place in the AL East.

Trammell also stole 21 bases, ranked second among all American League players for runs created, and within the top 10 for on-base percentage and slugging.

Highlight Game: September 26, 1987 @ Toronto. Trammell went 4-for-4 with two runs, two doubles, a run batted in, a walk, an intentional walk and a pair of stolen bases. Unfortunately for the tigers, the Blue Jays came out on top 10-9.

Competition: Carlos Guillen came the closest to producing similar numbers to Trammell in the 2004 season. He batted .318 with 20 home runs, 97 runs and runs batted in, and a dozen steals.

Other than him, you could maybe look towards Donie Bush’s 34 steals in 1917, but other than that nobody comes close. Trammell runs away with this vote comfortably.

Outfield: Ty Cobb (1911)

Ty Cobb had the greatest year of his hall of fame season back in 1911, winning the MVP at a canter.

In one of the best single seasons of all time, Cobb led the American league in more than 10 offensive categories.

He batted .420, stole 83 bases, hit 47 doubles and 24 triples, scored 147 runs and batted in 127.

He had a slugging percentage of .621, an OPS of 1.088, and his eight home runs were tied for second place behind Frank Baker’s 11.

Highlight Game: May 12, 1911 vs. New York Highlanders. Known for his “reckless daring”, Cobb combined his blinding speed with quick thinking to create all kinds of mayhem on the basepaths.

On May 12, Cobb scored from first base on a single to right field and then scored from second base on a wild pitch.

Later in the game he tied things up with a two-run double. According to Stewart Wolpin in his book The Ballplayers - Ty Cobb, the Highlanders’ catcher protested the call with the umpire to such lengths that the infielders gathered around home plate to watch.

Realizing that no one on the Highlanders had called time, Cobb strolled unobserved to third base, and then casually walked towards home plate as if to get a better view of the argument. He then suddenly slid into home plate for the game's winning run.

Magglio Ordonez (2007)

Ordonez won his first batting title in 2007 when he led the American league with a .363 average.

He hit 28 home runs and drew 76 walks, and he led all batters with 54 doubles. His 354 total bases and 139 runs batted in both ranked second to Alex Rodriguez—the man who beat him to the MVP award.

Highlight Game: August 14, 2007 @ Cleveland. Magglio helped Detroit move back to the top of the AL East with an extra-innings home run against the Tribe at Jacobs Field.

Tied atop the division, the Tigers rallied from 2-0 down behind Ordonez, who went 3-for-5 with four runs batted in, including a three-run home run off Joe Borowski in the top of the tenth inning that put the game to bed.

Rocky Colavito (1961)

Colavito was only with the Tigers for four seasons, but he made a lasting impression in 1961.

The corner outfielder hit 45 home runs and drove in 140 runs, finishing the season with 113 walks, and a .290 batting average.

Colavito played all 163 regular season games, went to his second All Star Game, and even received a few MVP votes in a ballot dominated by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

Colavito was one of four Tigers in the top 10 of the voting. The Yankees had five and Jim Gentile from the Orioles finished third.

Highlight Game: August 27, 1961 @ Washington. Colovito hit three home runs and had six RBI as the Tigers raced past the Senators 10-1.

It was his fourth home run of the day, having hit a solo shot in the first half of the day-night double-header.

Competition: Harry Heilmann had a fantastic 1923 season, batting .403 with 18 home runs, 115 RBI and 121 runs.

He finished second in the AL in on-base percentage and slugging percentage behind Babe Ruth, third in home runs and runs batted in, and fourth in extra-base hits. He came third in the MVP voting behind Ruth and Eddie Collins.

Kirk Gibson hit 27 homers and stole 29 bases in 1984, recording 91 RBI and 92 runs. More recently Curtis Granderson hit 23 home runs and stole 26 bases, scoring 122 runs in 2007 and batting .302.

Designated Hitter: Gary Sheffield (2007)

Despite the .265 batting average, Sheffield still had a fine year as the Tigers’ DH, hitting 25 bombs and swiping 22 bags.

Sheffield is the only Tigers’ DH to score more than 100 runs (107) and he also holds the record for the most steals. His 75 runs batted in ranks fifth among all Detroit designated hitters.

In his first full year of not having to worry about playing defense at the tender age of 38, Shef walked 84 times and had a .378 on-base percentage.

Highlight Game: June 6, 2007 @ Texas. Sheffield hit a pair of homers for his second multi- homer game of the 2007 season.

He went 3-for-4 with five runs batted in and a walk, taking Kevin Millwood deep in the first and third innings.

Competition: The biggest choice here was between Sheffield and Rusty Staub. In 1978, Staub hit 24 home runs and had 121 runs batted in.

He ranked third in the AL in total bases, second in RBI, and fifth for times on base. He finished fifth in the MVP voting.

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