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All-Time Team – Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers boast more batting champions than any other franchise, with nine different Tiger players having won a total of 23 batting titles between them over the years. Not surprisingly, their All-Time Team is loaded with batting stars, starting with the immortal Ty Cobb, who captured 12 batting crowns himself, while hitting over .400 on three separate occasions.
Best Team: 1935
Although the 1984 squad is far more familiar to most Tiger fans, the 1935 team was more talented. Featuring future Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, and Goose Goslin, the ’35 club became the first Detroit team to win a world championship. After losing the previous year’s Fall Classic to the Cardinals in seven games, the Tigers vanquished the Cubs in the 1935 World Series.
Many great players have donned a Detroit Tigers uniform, but the greatest of them all was unquestionably Ty Cobb, who dominated his era more than any other player except Babe Ruth.
Hal Newhouser won back-to-back A.L. MVP Awards in 1944 and 1945, and he likely would have captured a third in succession had it not been for Ted Williams.
First Base – Hank Greenberg
Cecil Fielder had a couple of monstrous years for the Tigers, and Norm Cash had one of the finest offensive seasons in team history in 1961. But there is little doubt that Hank Greenberg was the greatest first baseman to ever play for the team. A tremendous slugger and a veritable RBI-machine, Greenberg nearly broke two American League records when he hit 58 home runs for the Tigers in 1938, one year after he knocked in 183 runs for them. Greenberg surpassed 150 runs batted in three different times and topped the 40-homer mark on four separate occasions, even though he played only nine full seasons due to time spent in the military during World War II. Greenberg hit 331 home runs over the course of his career, and he likely would have reached the 500 home run plateau had he not missed almost five full years in the middle of his career.
Second Base – Charlie Gehringer
Lou Whitaker remains extremely popular with recent generations of Tiger fans, but he wasn’t nearly as good an all-around player as Charlie Gehringer. One of the most underrated players in baseball history, Gehringer fielded his position smoothly and effortlessly, while posting exceptional offensive numbers year after year. The Hall of Famer compiled a batting average well in excess of .300 on 13 separate occasions, knocked in more than 100 runs seven times, scored more than 100 runs 12 times, and compiled an on-base percentage in excess of .400 a total of nine times. Gehringer won the A.L. batting title with a mark of .371 in 1937, a year in which he also captured league MVP honors.
Third Base – George Kell
A solid hitter and an even better fielder, George Kell spent only six full years in Detroit. Nevertheless, he accomplished enough during that time to earn a spot on the Tigers’ all-time team. Kell batted over .300 each year for the Tigers, edging out Ted Williams for the A.L. batting title with a mark of .343 in 1949. He followed that up by hitting .340 in 1950, while establishing career highs with 101 runs batted in, 114 runs scored, 218 hits, and 56 doubles. An outstanding defensive player as well, Kell topped all league third basemen in assists in three of his six years with the Tigers.
Shortstop – Alan Trammell
One of the most popular players in Detroit history, Alan Trammell joined Kirk Gibson as one of the leaders of the 1984 World Series champion Tigers. A scrawny kid when he first entered the big leagues, Trammell built himself up into an exceptional all-around player, teaming up with second baseman Lou Whitaker to give Detroit the most enduring double play combination in baseball history. Along the way, Trammell batted over .300 on seven separate occasions, having his greatest season in 1987 when he batted .343 and drove in 105 runs, en route to earning a second-place finish in the league MVP voting.
Left Field – Sam Crawford
Although he primarily played right field throughout his career, Sam Crawford gets the nod here as the starting left fielder due to the presence of Al Kaline in right. Playing alongside Ty Cobb in the Tiger outfield his entire time in Detroit, Crawford rarely received the attention he deserved. Nevertheless, the left-handed hitting outfielder was among the game’s greatest sluggers during the Dead-ball Era. Crawford compiled an all-time record 309 triples over the course of his career, leading the league five different times while playing for the Tigers. He also batted over .300 for the team eight times, hitting a career high .378 in 1911. Crawford led the American League in runs batted in three times. Bobby Veach, Heinie Manush, Goose Goslin, Willie Horton, and Kirk Gibson all receive honorable mentions.
Center Field – Ty Cobb
This was the easiest pick of them all. The greatest player of his time, Ty Cobb dominated the sport more than any other player except Babe Ruth. The Georgia Peach won 12 batting titles, batted over .400 three times, and led his league in a major offensive statistical category a total of 58 times over the course of his career. Although most of his records have since been broken, Cobb remains the sport’s all-time batting leader, with a lifetime mark of .367.
Right Field –Al Kaline
This pick was tougher than most fans might expect, since the name Harry Heilmann may not be familiar to most followers of the modern game. Heilmann, though, won four A.L. batting titles during the 1920s, and he gained general recognition during his career as one of the game’s finest hitters. After struggling somewhat his first few seasons, Heilmann flourished under the tutelage of Ty Cobb, posting league-leading batting averages of .394 in 1921, .403 in 1923, .393 in 1925, and .398 in 1927. Heilmann compiled a lifetime mark of .342. He also had some power, surpassing 18 homers three times for the Tigers, driving in more than 100 runs eight times, and accumulating more than 40 doubles on seven separate occasions. Al Kaline, though, is widely considered to be one of the greatest Tiger players ever. He hit 399 home runs, drove in 1,583 runs, scored 1,622 others, batted .297, and amassed 3,007 hits in his 22 years with the team. He surpassed 25 home runs seven times, 100 runs batted in three times, 100 runs scored twice, and batted over .300 on nine separate occasions, winning the A.L. batting title with a mark of .340 in 1955. Kaline had a bit more power than Heilmann, but the latter was a better overall hitter. Nevertheless, Kaline had the advantage of being a superb defensive outfielder, having won a total of 10 Gold Gloves. It’s a close call, and fortunately we have a DH spot in which to place Heilmann. We’ll give the starting right field job to Kaline.
Catcher - Bill Freehan
Mickey Cochrane may have been the finest receiver ever to play for the Tigers, but he was a member of the team for only two full seasons. Lance Parrish was a tremendous physical specimen, and he put up some fairly impressive power numbers for the Tigers in his eight full seasons as the team’s starting catcher. Bill Freehan, though, served as Detroit’s starting backstop for 13 years, establishing himself during that time as a solid hitter, and as the American League’s finest defensive catcher. Freehan topped 20 homers three times, en route to compiling a total of 200 four-baggers over the course of his career. More importantly, he did a masterful job behind the plate, handling a pitching staff that included standouts such as Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Freehan’s defensive skills and ability to call a game earned him five Gold Gloves, two top three finishes in the league MVP voting, and 11 All-Star selections.
Designated Hitter - Harry Heilmann
Norm Cash, Cecil Fielder, and Willie Horton all merited consideration, but the spot became Heilmann’s when the starting right field job was awarded to Al Kaline.
Starting Pitcher – Hal Newhouser
A remarkable three-year run in which he won a total of 80 games helped make Hal Newhouser the greatest pitcher in Detroit Tigers history. After failing to post a winning record in any of his first five seasons, Newhouser thrived while most of the game’s best players were away from the game during World War II. The lefthander won back-to-back MVP trophies in 1944 and 1945, posting a combined record those two years of
54-18, while also compiling ERAs of 2.22 and 1.81, respectively. Newhouser proved his success wasn’t tied strictly to the absence of many of the sport’s finest hitters in 1946, when he finished 26-9, with a 1.94 ERA, 29 complete games, and 275 shutouts. He finished second in the league MVP balloting to Ted Williams. Newhouser led the American League in wins for the fourth time two years later, when he posted a mark of 21-12 for the Tigers. Newhouser’s overall record in his 15 years in Detroit was 200-148, with a 3.07 ERA.
Starting Pitcher – Mickey Lolich
After playing second fiddle to Denny McLain throughout the 1968 campaign, Mickey Lolich stepped out of McLain’s shadow during that year’s World Series when he captured Series MVP honors by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals three times. The portly left-hander went on to establish himself as the ace of the Tiger staff in subsequent seasons, finishing his 13 years in Detroit with 207 victories. Lolich posted two 20-win seasons for the Tigers, winning a league-leading 25 games for them in 1971. He also won at least 16 games three other times, struck out more than 200 batters seven times, completed more than 20 games three times, and tossed more than 300 innings four times.
Starting Pitcher – Jack Morris
No pitcher won more games during the 1980s than Jack Morris. Spending the entire decade with the Tigers, Morris posted 162 victories for the club, en route to winning a total of 198 games as a Detroit Tiger. Morris surpassed 20 victories twice for the team, winning at least 16 games six other times. A true workhorse, Morris threw more than 250 innings six times and completed at least 15 of his starts on four separate occasions. After winning 19 games for the world championship team of 1984, he had perhaps his finest season two years later, when he finished 21-8, with a 3.27 ERA, 223 strikeouts, and a league-leading six shutouts.
Starting Pitcher – Tommy Bridges
Spending his entire 16-year career with the Tigers, Tommy Bridges compiled an overall record of 194-138 in helping the team win four pennants and two world championships. The right-hander surpassed 20 victories three times, posting back-to-back 20-win campaigns for Detroit’s A.L. championship squads of 1934 and 1935. He won a total of 43 games those two years, before leading the junior circuit with 23 victories and 175 strikeouts in 1936. Bridges won at least 14 games for the Tigers four other times.
Starting Pitcher – Schoolboy Rowe
Joining Bridges on Detroit’s A.L. pennant-winning teams of 1934, 1935, and 1940 was lanky right-hander Schoolboy Rowe, who won 24 games for the first of those championship squads. Rowe also posted 19 victories for the Tigers two other times, before compiling an exceptional 16-3 record for the 1940 pennant-winners. Rowe finished his 10 years in Detroit with an overall record of 105-62.
Closer – Willie Hernandez
Although he pitched effectively for the Tigers in only three of his six years with the team, Willie Hernandez compiled the greatest single season ever by a Detroit reliever. After being acquired by the Tigers prior to the start of the 1984 campaign, Hernandez posted a 9-3 record and a 1.92 ERA for the eventual world champions during the regular season. Even more impressive was the left-handed reliever’s perfect 32-for-32 record in save opportunities. Hernandez’s exceptional performance earned him league MVP honors. He followed that up by saving another 55 games over the course of the next two seasons. John Hiller will ably assist Hernandez in the Detroit bullpen.
Manager – Sparky Anderson
After being fired by the Reds at the conclusion of the 1978 season, Sparky Anderson vowed to prove wrong those people who referred to him as a push-button manager whose previous success was predicated solely on the talent that surrounded him in Cincinnati. Anderson took over as Tiger manager one year later, promising fans of the team a pennant within five years. He delivered on his promise in 1984 when he led Detroit to 104 victories during the regular season and a triumph over the over-matched San Diego Padres in the World Series. Buoyed by that success, Anderson ended up spending 17 years in Motown, winning two Manager of the Year awards.
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