I have grown up my whole life a Tiger fan. Through thick and thin, I have always pulled for them. I love reading the stories of the old teams, like the 1934 and 1935 teams led by Mickey Cochrane, Schoolboy Rowe, Charlie Gehringer, and Hank Greenberg. The 1984 team was one of the most dominant teams in big league history, winning 35 of the first 40 games, and 104 by season’s end. Everybody remembers Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run off Goose Gossage in game 5 to put the game, and the series, away. Then there was the 1968 team which came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit and beat Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in 7 games. Mickey Lolich won 3 games in that series, including the epic game 7, on two day’s rest. I remember watching the final game of the 1987 regular season, when Detroit needed to sweep the first place Blue Jays in order to win the division. They did just that, winning the last game 1-0, behind Frank Tanana’s complete game, and a Larry Herndon home run. That is still the greatest single ballgame I have ever seen, in my own biased opinion (I know fans of the 1975 Red Sox will disagree, and fans of the 1991 Twins will disagree, but that is their opinion; this is mine).
After the 2012 season, where the Tigers made the World Series, and Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, I started asking who I would place on my All-Time, All-Tiger Team. I began pouring through the stats of past and present Tiger teams, reading old stories of various players, and coming up with a criteria to determine who I would place, or not place, on a team which represents over 110 seasons of baseball. The first choice I had to make was how to split up the 25 positions available on a normal Major League roster. I decided to go with 2 players per position, with 9 pitchers. This will equal 6 outfielders, 2 catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, and shortstops. I then elected to go with 7 starting pitchers and 2 relief pitchers.
I will try to keep my criteria for selecting a player simple, but that comes with the understanding that no matter what criteria I use, good players (and some will think more deserving players) are going to be left off this team. I have looked at every season in Tigers history more than once, and will admit I have had to give second and third looks to many players. In some cases I have even gone back and changed my mind on who I would place on this team. Being forced to narrow down the selection to 25 players is much more difficult than I anticipated.
My first criteria (and it seems like an obvious one, but it is more complex than it looks) is I am only counting seasons the person played in Detroit. Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin gets left off the team for this reason. He was an amazing ballplayer, but he had too few years in Detroit to be considered for this team; along with the fact that when you see the outfielders, you will see his 4 seasons, though solid, don’t measure up. Likewise, although it was a difficult choice, Mickey Cochrane gets left off the team. He was sold to Detroit in 1934 when Connie Mack was gutting his Philadelphia Athletics team for financial reasons. For Detroit, Cochrane was the missing piece needed to get to both the 1934 and
1935 World Series. He brought leadership along with Hall of Fame credentials (and he won an MVP), but alas, he only had 2 productive years with Detroit (and several more previously in Philadelphia). His Philadelphia years combined with his Detroit years place him in the conversation of greatest catchers of all-time, but I will not be using his Philadelphia stats to squeeze him onto this team, especially when I felt other catchers made just as important contributions to the Detroit organization, with their best years also as a Tiger.
Although I might mention career stats when talking about certain players, for the purposes of making this list, only Detroit stats count. You will not see me make mention of Waite Hoyt, Al Simmons, or Eddie Mathews. All of these players had brilliant careers, but not with Detroit, even though each spent time in Motown. This is also the case with Bill Madlock and Fred Lynn, both of whom spent time in Detroit just before their careers ended.
My second criteria is this: I feel the player needed to have at least 3 “productive” seasons with the Tigers, and frequently I use more than 3 to provide more balance. The term “productive” is pretty subjective, as it is really based on my own opinion, but I felt that considering an organization that has been around as long as the Tigers, I wanted to reward longevity with the team. Longevity alone would not cut it, however, because to make this team the player had to stand out above their peers, and with some level of consistency. To that end, it was not enough to have one monster season, or two great seasons. The best of the best should have at least 3 good to great years to make this team. Creating an All-Tiger team with only one or two great seasons would include Mark Fidrych (a very popular player, but one who only had 1 uninjured year), Bill Gullickson (a 20 game winner in 1991), Bobo Newsom, Virgil Trucks (as much as I would love to include the uncle of Butch Trucks, and great uncle of Derek Trucks on this team) and the previously mentioned Mickey Cochrane. Another “one hit wonder” was Heinie Manush. He is a Hall of Fame outfielder and has his name honored at Comerica Park (his number is not retired because he didn’t wear one). In 1926 he led the league with a .378 batting average, but in all of the other seasons he played in Detroit he did not manage to get 500 at bats. Last, Prince Fielder does not make this team either, simply because he has only played one season with Detroit. He hit .313 with 30 home runs, and helped the Tigers get to the World Series, which is very impressive, but not enough. If he has two more seasons like this, he will get strong consideration to be added to this team, but for now I cannot justify it in comparison to other players, and I will not allow myself to use the outstanding years he played in Milwaukee.
The third criteria I use regards the inevitable situation where two or more players are deserving of a spot on the team, but only one position is available. In these situations I give a nudge to a player who helped the Tigers make the post season. Often times players had their best or one of their best years in a season where the team made the playoffs. Since these seasons “count” more, meaning the player had the pressure of something to play for throughout the season (as opposed to just playing for stats when you are 20 games out with 10 games left), players who were on playoff teams get a boost in their consideration. It should not surprise you to see that almost every position is filled with a player who helped the Tigers get into the playoffs. There are exceptions to this, however, but the best teams often have the best players, so there should be few surprises here.
To that end, I would like to go position by position with the selection process. I will start with the Outfield, since it makes the most sense to me to begin there, considering the legendary players who filled these positions for the Tigers over the years. I will follow that up with First Base and Third Base, Second Base and Shortstop, Catcher and then Pitchers. For each player listed, I will also show at least 3 of their best years as a Tigers player, and average these out to show the season you could expect from each player in their prime. I will also explain my methodology for not including certain other players, for anyone who would like to extend the discussion, or make their own team and compare.
After that, I will present what I think the All-Tiger batting order should be, then the starting rotation. There could be no end to the debate about who should bat in which spot, or who the number 1 starter should be, but I will lay out my best ideas anyway.
Coming next: The All-Time Tigers Outfield.