Lance Armstrong, Stan Musial, and the Death of Heroes

There are no more heroes.  That was the line I read last week, and I have been chewing on it since.  It was written during a very strange week in sports, where Lance Armstrong “confessed” to using performance enhancing drugs, and Manti Te’o was discovered to be the victim (participant?) of a strange, odd hoax.

The week before last was also interesting, because no baseball players were elected into the Hall of Fame, thanks to the stain and strain steroids have exacted on the sport in the last two decades.

This last week ended with the death of Stan Musial.  His death added a new dimension to the opening line, which did not have Musial in mind when it was penned.  It became more poignant to me after I read Musial’s obituary on Sunday.  There are no more heroes.

This begged the question in my mind, ‘what makes a person a hero?’  I decided I had to narrow the conversation down to the sports world, because that was the context within which the initial statement was written.  I came up with what I felt was a simple, and hopefully complete enough, definition of a hero.  First, we define a sports hero as one who achieves an elite status in their profession.  That could be done over the course of a career, or in some cases, in one game or contest (especially if it is for a championship). Second, a hero is expected to have at least a minimum level of character, integrity, or honor.  They must be somebody who kids can look up to, and emulate.  Third, a hero must be someone who overcomes a great challenge, or sacrifices themselves for a cause or other people.

This takes me to Lance Armstrong.  We considered Armstrong a hero, because he competed in a sport rife with cheating, and we were told he was the lone clean rider, and his competitive spirit was what led him to be the greatest cyclist who ever lived.  On top of that, he had beaten cancer, and was using his fame to further the fight against the disease.  Heroic, noble, except it was all lies.  The money he has helped give to cancer research is all very real, but Lance is a liar.  What I find most disturbing about Lance Armstrong is not that he lied about cheating for 15+ years, but that he ruthlessly ruined people’s lives who were telling the truth all along.  There is an element of evil in his story, and it is scary.

With the loss of Armstrong as a hero, who do we have left?  I could argue nobody.  At least nobody who is actively participating in a sport.  We have former athletes who I would easily consider heroes, but I really cannot find a current athlete who meets the definition.  Why? Let me explain.

First, we have too much media scrutiny.  That is not an indictment on the media, but rather an indictment on our collective desire for constant drama in this country.  We love dirt, and we will stop at nothing to find dirt on people.  The media is only giving us what we want.  A by-product of this constant media attention is that we have created a culture where athletes are now attention seeking.  This is the opposite of someone like Musial, who is often described as ‘humble’.  Athletes used to focus on doing their job as best they could.  Now they look for the cameras so they can give their scripted, attention seeking statements.  This is not attractive, nor heroic.

Let’s go back to the 1940s, when Stan Musial was the top National League outfielder of his generation.  Musial was leading his Cardinal teams to four World Series in five years.  His teams won three of those contests.  In 1948, Musial was one home run shy of the triple crown.  He won seven batting titles in his career, and when he finally retired, he had amassed a .331 batting average, on 3,630 hits, which was the National League record until Pete Rose later broke it.  This man was a hitting machine.  The media only covered his baseball career, however.  His private life was off limits.  It was a different time, and I think people would rather imagine that Stan Musial was the kind of guy they wanted their daughter to bring home, than find out he had demons in his closet.  Fortunately (and sadly, because it should not need to be mentioned), Musial’s AP obituary stated that he was “scandal-free” in his playing days.  This now makes him the exception.

The media scrutiny we see today was not at a very high level when Mickey Mantle played either.  His alcoholism and marital infidelity were not topics the press felt the need to report.  Again, it was a different time, without smart phones, tablets, or even digital cameras.  A drunk Mantle out with a strange woman was not going to be on anybody’s Facebook page in the morning.  Fans were shocked to hear of his personal struggles when they came out in full.  Compare that to Josh Hamilton today, whose alcohol and drug issues have been exceedingly widely reported.  I am not saying that watching Josh Hamilton work on overcoming his struggles is not an inspiration, or heroic in a sense, but I am saying that he gets scrutinized, perhaps unfairly, more than prior generations have been scrutinized.  It was easier for us to call someone a hero when we did not know how human they actually were.  That is no longer the case.

The second reason I think we struggle to find heroes today is that professional athletes make way too much money.  This making of money invites an element of greed into the equation, which is not a heroic element.  Looking back at Stan Musial, he made good money as a ballplayer in his day, but nothing approaching the outlandish salaries of this day and age.  His highest salary, converted into today’s dollars, would be worth approximately $500,000 – $600,000 per year, and he is one of the best hitters who ever lived.  Today, that amount is below the league average.  Musial played his whole career under the Reserve Clause, which was not abolished until after the 1975 season.  This clause meant that Musial could either play for the Cardinals for what they would pay him, or go home.  Don’t get me wrong, Musial was not starving to death, and nobody felt sorry for him at the time for only making $80,000 to $100,000 per year.  Still, he did not have to face the choice of chasing the money or staying with the home team.

In 2012, Albert Pujols began playing for the Anaheim Angels.  This was after 11 seasons with the Cardinals where he earned legendary status, helping St. Louis win two World Series, while he personally earned the Rookie of the Year award, and three MVP awards. Many Cardinals fans turned on Pujols in 2012 because he turned down a 10 year, $210 million contract to stay with St. Louis to go to Anaheim for $254 million.  This forces the average fan to ask what, honestly, is the difference between two ungodly sums of money? Unfortunately, the answer we are forced to give is greed.

In his 11 seasons with St. Louis, Pujols established himself as the best hitter in all of baseball.  Nobody else was even considered close.  He also impressed people with his humility, and integrity.  He is a player who claims to play the game clean, and is very critical of those who use performance enhancing drugs to improve their stats.  In addition, he has set up a foundation which supports people with Down Syndrome, other disabilities, and those in poverty, particularly in the Dominican Republic.  This all makes Albert Pujols a hero in the minds or many people.  Then he turns down the opportunity to finish his career in St. Louis, so he can earn a little more money elsewhere.  This apparent greed leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of too many fans, and it reminds us that there are no more heroes.

One last reason I have as to why we have no heroes in athletics these days is that we cannot find athletes who overcome a great obstacle or sacrifice themselves for a cause or for others.  Let’s talk again about Stan Musial.  In 1945, Musial went into the US Navy to help defend our country against the Japanese.  He lost a year of playing baseball, while in the prime of his life to fight in World War II.  This is heroic.  Granted, Musial was never placed on the front lines, so he was never seriously placed in harm’s way.  In fact, only two baseball players were killed in action during the war – Elmer Gedeon and Harry O’Neill. Even in saying that, I don’t want to discount what so many baseball players contributed to the war effort.  First, they spent time in a hostile, foreign country, away from their families, and there was no guarantee that they would not be injured, wounded or killed.  Second, the morale boost given by the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, or Bob Feller to their fellow countrymen was exceedingly important to the war effort.  This was a real sacrifice.  It made a whole generation of athletes into heroes.

Now, name me a professional athlete who was fought for their country in the last two decades.  The obvious person who gets mentioned is Pat Tillman.  Pat Tillman is a hero, without question.  Now, name me another professional athlete who left behind an athletic career for any amount of time to serve their country?  The next closest name is David Robinson.  After being drafted in 1987, Robinson postponed his NBA career for two years to finish out his active duty commitment to the US Navy.  This is admirable, and even heroic when you consider the amount of money Robinson left on the table to make this sacrifice, given he was one of the greatest centers who ever played.  If that weren’t enough, Robinson is widely considered to have very high integrity, and he has given over $10 million of his personal fortune to found a school, the Carver Academy, among other charitable endeavors.  David Robinson is somebody to look up to, and not just because he is seven feet tall.

Does every professional athlete need to serve their country to be considered a hero? Absolutely not.  Muhammad Ali is a hero for not fighting for his country.  A man of deep religious faith, Ali lost four years of his boxing career at the time when his skills had peaked, to stand up for his personal beliefs, defying the US Government, and not reporting for the Vietnam draft.  This was a very costly sacrifice.  Ali was publicly shamed by the government, and many in the media and populace.  He was also stripped of his heavyweight titles. Standing up for his principles in the face of this backlash, and at the cost of his own ability to earn a paycheck makes Ali a hero.  He also happens to be the greatest heavyweight fighter to ever live.  And he continues to live his life with great integrity.

Another hero is Roberto Clemente, who lost his life trying to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua.  A legendary athlete, and one who, because of his stature, did not have to get on the plane carrying the supplies to Nicaragua.  Clemente chose to go, because he wanted to make sure the people who needed the supplies the most received them.  He died when his plane, too heavy from the amount of supplies on it, went down in the Caribbean.  That is sacrifice.

Perhaps the person I admire the most as a hero is Jackie Robinson.  He carried the hopes of an entire race of people on his shoulders, while having the discipline to keep his own cool when goaded, spiked, thrown at, cussed at, and derided by anybody and everybody in baseball during 1947.  Not only did Robinson withstand the onslaught of others, he performed at a very high level, and changed the way the game was played, while also changing who played the game.  He is a hero.  I wish there were a larger term to apply to Jackie Robinson, because his heroics cannot be understated.

Where are our heroes today?  Is it possible to be a hero today?  It seems now that in light of Lance Armstrong and Major League Baseball, we find ourselves cynical in the face of those who appear to play by the rules, excel at their sport, and bring good to a cause.  We feel it is only a matter of time before a story breaks, and we find find ourselves in the midst of a scandal, and another person we admired gets placed with all the rest.

Or, we follow a player who does everything right, leads our favorite team to a championship, gets involved in the community and pours money into a great cause, only to break our hearts by leaving our team for another team who will pay them more.  Money will always be a reason a hero falls from grace when athletes make over $20 million per year, and only want more, while we, the fans, are making ends meet.

Last, we just don’t see sacrifice in our athletes anymore.  Many athletes give to charity, or start foundations with the intent to give back.  This is good, but they should do this, because they are making millions upon millions of dollars per year.  They have a responsibility to give back – this is not something that should be considered a sacrifice any more, but a minimal expectation.  My issue is that athletes no longer give in a costly fashion any more.  We thought Lance Armstrong was on to something with this Live Strong Foundation, and he really did do a lot of good.  Still, we have a bitter taste in our mouths, because the ends just don’t justify the means.  You cannot build a sustainable kingdom using the devil’s tools.

There are no more heroes.  Is there any hope that one day we will have another hero?  Honestly, I don’t know.  And I am not very optimistic.

Ray Lewis, The Baltimore Ravens, and Isaiah 54:17

I am not much of an NFL fan these days.  I don’t have anything against the NFL – it’s just that over the last decade I have lived in three states, five cities, and lost touch with the NFL.  I am a fan without a team, which makes me not much of a fan.

Until the 2013 playoffs.  When I heard Ray Lewis was retiring at the end of these playoffs, I just knew I had to watch.  This guy is a football legend, and once upon a time he was coached by my favorite defensive player in NFL history – Mike Singletary.  The two play a lot alike, which is why I have to watch these last few games.  For January, 2013, I now have a favorite team – the Baltimore Ravens.

The AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos on Saturday, January 12, was an unbelievable game.  I will not re-hash the highlights in totality, but I have to mention some.  First, nobody expected to see Baltimore win this game.  I thought this would be the last game I would get to see Ray Lewis play.  Then Baltimore finds a way to overcome a punt return for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown, Peyton Manning, and the altitude in Denver to complete one of the great comebacks I have ever seen in football.  Joe Flacco’s 70-yard pass to Jacoby Jones (which went about 60 yards on the fly, in the swirling 8 degree wind of Mile HIgh Stadium) put the game in overtime.  Then, just when I thought Baltimore’s defense had nothing more to give, they stopped Denver from scoring for another whole quarter, intercepted Peyton Manning, and won the game.  Remarkable.

This led to Ray Lewis’ emotional post-game interviews.  CBS sideline reporter Solomon Wilcots was able to corral an emotional Ray Lewis, and got this response (http://youtu.be/tG0rkzdb_qw).

I love this guy.  I wish Ray Lewis could play forever – he is that much fun to watch, even now, with an injured triceps muscle, and age obviously not on his side.  His emotion is palpable.  I wish I could be his teammate when I hear him talk with that kind of emotion.  I hope they win the AFC Championship so we can see him play in the Super Bowl.  What a great way to finish a career.  I just want to see Lewis play in two more games – one is not enough.

Here is what caught me when Ray Lewis spoke.  He said “No weapon.  No weapon formed shall prosper.”  He gave the same quote when interviewed on the field by ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio (http://youtu.be/1SX-aTyBjPQ) as well.  What did he mean?

The quote comes from the Old Testament of the Bible, Isaiah 54:17 to be exact.  Here is how the complete verse reads: “‘No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the Lord.”

I will start by saying I am not a theologian.  I am married to one, however, and I have spent my whole life reading the Bible.  I also have a history degree, which means I have learned to read things within the context they were written or said.  All that being said, I am still a novice to this, I will not pretend to be anything else.

My first question when I heard this quote by Ray Lewis was “why did he pick this verse over all others?”  I can’t get into Lewis’ head, but I do wonder why he didn’t quote Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”  This is a verse often quoted by athletes as a verse to show that God is on their side, although it too is taken out of context.  Lewis chose, “No weapon formed against me shall prevail.”  What was the weapon?  The Denver Broncos? Peyton Manning?  The Denver community?  Are these people working against God?  That’s scary ground to tread indeed, but I don’t think that is what Ray Lewis meant.

I do think (without any first-hand knowledge) Lewis feels his current quest has divine intervention on the side of the Baltimore Ravens, or at least for Ray Lewis.  His words tell me that he feels his team has a date with destiny, and that involves the Super Bowl.  Do they?  I don’t know.  What if the Ravens do win the AFC Championship?  Is that proof this team is destined?  No.  Is God a football fan?  I can’t answer that one, but I do know God loves God’s creation, and within that, God loves people more than anything.

The question for me then is can Ray Lewis read this verse and conclude that nothing will stand in his way to get to another Super Bowl before he retires?  It at least appears he is, but is that OK?  This particular verse was written around 700 BCE to Israelites in exile from their homeland.  Was it intended for Ray Lewis, on a football field in America over 2,700 years later?

Our smart theologians out there will want us to use ‘exegesis’ at this point.  Simply put, exegesis is placing the text in the context with which it was written, and intended, by the author.  In other words – what did the author mean when these words were put to paper?  It’s obvious in reading the 54th chapter of Isaiah that football was not the subject of the author.  What was?  In the simplest terms I can describe, the Kingdom of God, when the earth would be renewed, peace and justice would reign, and no weapon which has been formed to stop the work of God would be able to stand against the plan, design and will of God.  This is my rough paraphrase, but I give it to help clarify the subject.

How come Ray Lewis applied this verse to the football struggle between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos?  I think it is this: when this verse is pulled out of its context, it is a very inspiring verse to consider.  Who doesn’t want to believe that those who are walking the right path will not be harmed by any weapon which has been formed to stop them?

How come we willingly take 2,700 year old verses and apply them to our particular moments?  The truth is, we always have.  Isaiah 54 follows the 53rd chapter (shocking, right?), which is a very familiar chapter to Christianity, because it is one of the key Old Testament chapters we as Christians use to state that it was foretold that the Messiah would be killed for the sake of the world.  Starting in verse 4, we read these familiar words: “Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed.”

For generations Jews have been stating that Christians take these words out of context, along with numerous others, because these verses were written about Israel, the suffering servant of God in 700 BCE.  Christians have responded that when you read the stories of Jesus in the New Testament, it is obvious that these verses were written as a double meaning, applying both to Israel, and 700 years later to Jesus.  Who is right?  Well, that is matter of faith.

Now, let’s bring it to the present.  Can we really say that this verse could apply to a football game in 2013?  If I am being honest, I do not think it does.  I will also state that I do think these verses could be reapplied to today in regards to the working of God in the world, as God continues to bring about the establishment of the Kingdom in this world.

So what do I think of the ‘miracle’ applied in the Ravens win, and Ray Lewis use of Isaiah 54:17 to help inspire his team?  I think Lewis is a great motivator of people.  He knows what will get his teammates fired up, and behind him.  I also think Ray Lewis has a very deep Christian faith, which he draws upon on a daily basis.  Because of his age, experience, stature, and maturity, Ray Lewis is looked up to by many people, not just his own teammates.  I think he has led many football players to deepen their own faith, and make better decisions in their lives.  Ray Lewis draws upon his faith to help lead people.  It works.  Ray Lewis is being exactly who he is.

Let’s also make no mistake about it – the Baltimore Ravens are a good football team.  They are about to play in their third AFC Championship game in five years.  They started this season off red-hot, before injuries brought them back to earth.  They still made the playoffs, and are still a formidable force.  Are they inspired?  Yes.  They play to win, and they have a little extra boost because they are playing for their leader.  Is this verse helping to propel this team forward?  When their leader speaks it, it does.

I want to be careful in stressing that I don’t think this verse applies to football.  I am certain that this verse will be applied again, however.  It will be applied appropriately, in the context within which it was written over 2,700 years ago – when God’s Kingdom is established on earth for eternity.  And there is no weapon on earth formed, or yet to be formed, which will stop that from happening.

All-Time Detroit Tiger Pitching Rotation and Batting Order

In a world of computers and video games, what I am about to present is not so impossible.  I would love to see how this team stacks up against other all-time major league teams, like the A’s, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees, White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodgers.  Alas, I am not smart enough, nor do I have the time to program such a competition.

I will start with the pitching rotation, since that will be the shortest of the lists.  My first two starters were easy to select, and combined they offer a nasty 1-2, lefty-righty combo.  The first starter would be Hal Newhouser.  The ace of the staff in the 1940s, his numbers are easily the best on this team.  He can pitch long innings, strike out batters when he needs, and keep the score close.  Simply put, he is the best pitcher on this team.

The second pitcher would be Justin Verlander.  His 100 mph fastball, combined with his nasty curveball, make him the best of his generation.  He still has years to go to see if he can overtake Newhouser, but for now, he will do just fine as the number 2.

The third starter would be Tommy Bridges.  I love his consistency and grit.  He was a big game pitcher, and could also take games into late innings, without losing the ability to dominate.

The fourth starter would be Jack Morris.  His ability to rise to the occasion is well documented.  He was another durable, hard thrower who could carry a team on his back.

The fifth starter would be Denny McLain.  He was inconsistent, which is why he drops to the number five spot, but there is no doubt he was exceedingly talented.  When he was on, he could dominate.

That leaves Trout and Lary as long relievers, with Hiller and Hernandez closing games out.

Batting Order vs. Right-handed pitching

For the batting order, selecting the lead-off spot would be easy.  That would be Ty Cobb.  With his high average, and ability to get on base, combined with the base running skills he possessed, I can’t think of a more disruptive person to put in the one spot of any batting order.  He would cover center field.

For the second spot, I would want another left-handed hitter, who is patient at the plate, has decent speed on the bases, and can hit behind Cobb while setting up the big hitters.  Here is where I would place second baseman, Charlie Gehringer.  With his .355 average, penchant for hitting doubles, and ability to see a lot of pitches without striking out, he is a perfect number two hitter against right-handed pitching.  Plus, he would be a threat to score from first on a double from one of the following hitters.

Batting third would be the biggest power hitter of the order, playing first base – Hank Greenberg.  I would place him here, because of his ability to drive in runners.  Plus, I would want to give my most feared home run hitter the best protection available in the order.

Batting clean-up, and playing third base would be Miguel Cabrera.  He would force pitchers to throw to Greenberg, while also being in a position to drive in runs himself.  A clean-up hitter who can consistently bat .330, while hitting over 30 home runs is a rare luxury.

The five hitter might look a little unconventional, because he is not a twenty home run per year guy.  Still, with the ability to hit .400, and drive in over 100 runs, I have a hard time seeing anybody pitching around Cabrera to face Harry Heilmann.  I almost placed Slug in the number two spot in the order, because of his high average, but for this section I wanted Gehringer in the two spot because he is left-handed, quicker on the bases, and just as difficult to strike out as Heilmann.  Heilmann becomes an assassin in the fifth place of the order, though.

Batting sixth, in right field, would be Al Kaline.  Kaline also was a difficult strikeout, so even though he didn’t have the huge home run numbers of the others, with his ability to put the ball in play, hit for high average, and still knock his share out of the park, he is positioned well to continue to drive in runs, and protect Heilmann in the order.

Batting seventh, and playing shortstop, would be Alan Trammell.  He would provide protection for Kaline in the order with his ability to spray the ball to all fields, as well as his power potential.  With his speed on the base paths, he would also be disruptive at the bottom of the order, giving opportunities to the last two batters to drive him in.

Batting eight, in the second clean-up position, and playing catcher, is Lance Parrish.  With his power and ability to drive in runs, Parrish is a scary hitter to face in this position, especially with Kaline and Trammell, both possessing above average speed, ahead of him in the order.

Batting ninth, and setting the table to for top of the lineup, the DH, Sam Crawford.  Another line drive hitter, with great speed on the base paths, Crawford would be a dangerous hitter and runner ahead of Cobb.  He is also a very capable RBI hitter.

I feel this lineup provides an excellent combination of speed and power, with excellent contact hitters throughout.  The defense is solid as well, anchored by Parrish, Gehringer, Trammell, and Cobb up the middle.  The weakest defensive positions currently are left field and third base.  George Kell would make an adequate replacement at third, allowing Cabrera to move to first base in later innings, and Greenberg to switch to left field, if necessary.  Kirk Gibson provides great speed coming off the bench, as does Lou Whitaker.  Let me also say I would have no problem platooning Bill Freehan in at catcher; Parrish just has better home run potential which is why he was chosen.

Ty Cobb (L), CF
Charlie Gehringer (L), 2B
Hank Greenberg (R), 1B
Miguel Cabrera (R), 3B
Harry Heilmann (R), LF
Al Kaline (R), RF
Alan Trammell (R), SS
Lance Parrish (R), C
Sam Crawford (L), DH

Batting lineup vs. Left-handed pitching

There is only one player substitution change I would make to the lineup with a lefty on the mound, and that is in the DH position.  I would remove Sam Crawford, and place Rudy York in the lineup (I would consider Magglio Ordonez there, too, given his solid home run hitting ability and high average).  Here is how it would look:

Ty Cobb (L), CF
Harry Heilmann (R), LF
Hank Greenberg (R), 1B
Miguel Cabrera (R), 3B
Rudy York (R), DH
Al Kaline (R), RF
Charlie Gehringer (L), 2B
Lance Parrish (R), C
Alan Trammell (R), SS

I switched the number two hitter to Heilmann to give the advantage of having a right-handed hitter face a left-handed pitcher early in the line-up.  This would drop Gehringer down to the seven spot (after five righties in a row), allowing me to move the speedy Trammell to the ninth position.  Harvey Kuenn would be effective here too, but I keep Trammell in the lineup because he is faster, and a better defensive player.

I would move York to the five spot, because of his ability to hit for power.  His average is not as good as Kaline’s, but with Kaline following, York would still see good pitches, allowing me to take full advantage of his home run potential.  If I were to bat Ordonez in the DH spot, I would probably bat Kaline fifth, and Ordonez sixth, since Kaline has a little more power potential.   There really is no way to go wrong with a lineup like this, which is what makes it so fun to compile.

The last decision I would have to make is who would manage this team.  Based on history (3 pennants, and 1 World Series title), I would have to go with Mickey Cochrane.  His top two bench coaches would be Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland.  Hughie Jennings, with his three pennants, would also be on this coaching staff, and he would cover as third-base coach while the Tigers were batting, because of his unique style with the offense..

All-Time Detroit Tiger Pitchers

Assessing who the greatest Tiger pitchers are seems like it would be a simple job.  You take the best 3 seasons of the pitchers, average them together, and whoever has the most wins, lowest ERA, highest strikeout totals and innings pitched gets picked.  The only problem is that differences in era (not earned run average in this case) are more glaring for the pitching position than they are for hitters.  For example, we all understand the dead-ball era existed before 1920.  This allowed hitters to have magnificent batting averages, but home run production was almost non-existent.  From 1920 to 1930 we see the “live-ball” era begin, when home run production increased dramatically.  1930 to 1940 was considered the “rabbit-ball” era, when batting averages and home run production spiked even above the 1920s (not so much on an individual basis, but rather as a whole).  These eras reflect on pitching, as a typical decent pitcher in 1910 could have an ERA of 2.50 (No ERA champion before 1920 posted an ERA above 2.00).  This same pitcher in 1935 would have an ERA of about 4.00 (in 1938, Lefty Grove had the lowest ERA in the American League at 3.08).

Innings pitched and complete games are similarly affected by time period.  Pitchers were expected to finish what they started until even the 1970s.  Also, pitchers were known to pitch both ends of a double header during the first half of the 20th century, or pitch on 1 or 2 days of rest.  Today’s pitchers are subject to strict pitch counts, and are given 5 days of rest whether they want it or not.  In addition, relief pitchers are now considered specialists who get teams out of a specific jam at a certain point in the game.  Before the 1970s, relief pitchers were mainly failed starters, or starters in waiting.  Mariano Rivera would not have been a closer before 1970.

What all of this amounts to is that pure statistics are very deceiving when it comes to pitchers.  Because of Sabermetrics, and other statistical measurements of productivity, the “win” has lost influence as a measuring stick for good pitching (this is why Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award in 2010 with a 13-12 record).  We know a bad pitcher can win a lot of games on a good team, but wins are difficult to use as a measuring stick when a good pitcher is on a bad team.  There have been many good pitchers in history who lose a lot of ball games, but pitch well enough to give their team a chance to win.  In the years when pitchers have lost 20 games in a season, fans and writers will often say that pitcher was “good enough to lose,” because even with the high number of losses, that pitcher gave the team the best chance to win at that given time.

With all of that being said, how can one possibly choose an All-Time Detroit Tiger pitching staff?  I have 9 positions to fill, since I used 16 positions for batters.  For the 9 pitchers I decided I would choose the 7 best starters, and 2 best relievers in team history.  My criteria again requires at least 3 “productive” seasons, meaning that there must be 3 seasons with some measure of dominance for that time period.  The pure numbers are not going to appear fair, because starting pitchers from 1980 on simply do not get the opportunities to win games as pitchers from previous years (in games started or innings pitched).  Also, to restate what I said above, dominating the 1930s as a pitcher did not look the same as dominating the 1920s, or for that matter, the 1950s and 1960s.  I will be using the “classic” statistics to measure greatness – Wins (Saves for Closers), Losses, ERA, Complete Games, Shutouts, Innings Pitched, and Strikeouts, but I will also be reflecting the pitchers by how dominant they were for their particular time period.  For this I will us a modern stat – ERA+ (also known as Adjusted ERA).  This stat measures the particular pitcher’s ERA against the league average with an adjustment made for how “hitter friendly” their own ballpark is, thus giving a fair comparison to the pitcher’s peers, and allowing for a comparable measurement across different eras of baseball history.  An ERA+ of 100 means the pitcher exactly hit the average league ERA.  The higher the ERA+ is the better the pitcher’s ERA compared to the league.  An ERA+ of 200 is very difficult to achieve, but has been done about 20 times by starting pitchers throughout baseball history.  I do want to note that I feel wins and innings pitched are very important, as it is the job of the pitcher to find a way to win regardless of the conditions they are in for the game or season.  Beating another team’s best pitcher, or a team full of great hitters counts when it comes to making this list.

I will begin my starting pitchers with what many historians would consider an unfair selection, Hal Newhouser (L).  I say it is unfair because Prince Hal had two amazing seasons when the best baseball players were overseas fighting WWII.  This would appear to give him an unfair advantage, and maybe it did.  

None the less, Newhouser earned MVP honors in 1944 and 1945 (this was before Cy Young awards were given), won the pitching Triple Crown (Wins, ERA, and Strikeouts), and was the ace of the 1945 World Series winning team.  He finished his career with 207 wins (200 with Detroit) and a 3.06 lifetime ERA, and earned his way into the Hall of Fame.  I place him on this team, however, because 1944 and 1945 were not the only productive years he had (plus, being successful against lesser opponents does not make one a bad pitcher.  He had to win those games with a lesser defense behind him, and weaker hitters on his own team too).  When all the great hitters came back home, he had a stellar 1946 (with a sub-2.00 ERA), followed by excellent years in 1947, 1948 (leading the league with 21 wins), and 1949.  His success was no fluke.  His career is closer to the great Sandy Koufax than any other pitcher in Tigers history, since Newhouser, like Koufax, was a late blooming lefty who went from mediocrity to dominance seemingly overnight.

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

1945

25

9

1.81

195

313.1

212

36

29

8

MVP, Triple Crown, AS

1946

26

9

1.94

190

292.2

275

34

29

6

MVP Runner-up, AS

1944

29

9

2.22

159

312.1

187

34

25

6

MVP, AS

1948

21

12

3.01

145

272.1

143

35

19

2

Prime

25

10

2.22

172

297.2

205

35

26

6

I want to point out that the year Newhouser’s ERA increased to 2.22, he finished second in the league.  Also, in 1948, Prince Hal’s ERA was fourth in the league, and the average ERA for the league that year was 4.28 (while the other three years on this list had a league ERA between 3.36 to 3.50).

The second pitcher chosen has already reached legendary proportions, even though he still has a long way to go in his career.  Justin Verlander (R) is possibly the hardest thrower of his era, consistently reaching 100 mph on the radar gun even into the 8th and 9th inning of games.  Verlander is so effective not just because he throws hard, but he also features one of the best curve balls in baseball.

 

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

2011

24

5

2.40

172

251

250

34

4

2

Cy Young, MVP, Triple Crown, AS

2012

17

8

2.64

160

238.1

239

33

6

1

Cy Young Runner-up, AS

2009

19

9

3.45

131

240

269

35

3

1

Cy Young #3, AS

Prime

20

7

2.83

154

243

253

34

4

1

Although Verlander’s 2009 season appears a bit out of place with the higher ERA, I feel it needs to be pointed out that his was the sixth best for a starting pitcher in the American League that year.  His 2012 total was second in the American League to Cy Young award winner David Price.

The next pitcher chosen is the only Tiger to win two Cy Young awards to date (although Newhouser would have undoubtedly won three had the award been given in his day, and seriously challenged for a fourth.  Plus, Verlander is not done yet), but had injuries shorten his career.  His numbers year in and year out could be confounding, because he showed inconsistency in his performance.  Some of that could be blamed on mediocre teams, some of it maturity, some of it injuries.  Any way you cut it, Denny McLain (R) deserves to be on this team based on his performance as a pitcher in the mid to late 60s, and his role in helping Detroit win their third World Series title in 1968.  That year he won an astounding 31 games, pitching 336 innings, compiling an ERA of 1.96, and along with the Cy Young award, he also took home the American League MVP.  Many people will call me to task for placing McLain on the team, and leaving off Norm Cash earlier.  This would be a fair argument, except McLain led the league with 24 wins in 1969, and notched his second Cy Young award.  In 1970, after facing numerous suspensions for gambling and other unbecoming behavior, McLain only went 3-5.  In 1971, he had arm trouble, and his record dropped to 10-22.  By 1973, at the age of 29, he was out of baseball.

Before 1968, Denny had another 20 win season, when his record was 20-14 in 1966.  During his time with Detroit, he compiled 117 wins against 62 losses, for a winning percentage of .654.  That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider that this includes his 10-22 campaign in 1971.  He was not quite the work horse in 1965 or 1966 he became in 1968 and 1969 (although by today’s standards, he threw a lot of innings), but if he had stayed at this level, his arm might have lasted longer.  Still, McLain played a key role for the 1968 World Series team.  Although he went 1-2 and in the 1968 World Series itself, he won a crucial game 6 on two days rest to force a game 7.

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

1968

31

6

1.96

154

336

280

41

28

6

Cy Young, MVP, AS

1969

24

9

2.80

134

325

181

41

23

9

Cy Young, AS

1966

20

14

3.92

89

264.1

192

38

14

4

AS

1965

16

6

2.61

134

220.1

192

29

13

4

Prime

23

9

2.77

128

286.1

211

37

20

6

McLain benefitted from good hitting in 1966, when his ERA was twenty-seventh among starting pitchers in the American League (and higher than the league average of 3.44).  Still, he showed durability by throwing 264 innings, and gutting out 20 wins.  In the three other seasons his ERA was well below the league average, as he finished 1968 fourth in the ERA race (the league average that year was 2.98), and seventh each in 1969 and 1965.

The fourth pitcher spent his entire career in Detroit from 1930 to 1946, being on the roster for four pennants and two World Series championships.  He was the ace of the staff in 1934 and 1935, and the number two starter in 1940.  He only saw action in 4 games in 1945 (coming back late in the season after his service in WWII), so his role was not crucial to that team’s success.  He did pitch in game 6 of the World Series, however.

Tommy Bridges (R) numbers might appear deceiving.  He won 194 games in his career against 138 losses (.584 winning percentage), and had an ERA of 3.57 for his career.  His career spanned a time when hitters seemed to have the advantage, resulting in league ERAs frequently topping 4.50 (with the 1936 American League ERA at 5.04).  In fact, in each season listed he was in the top 10 of the league in ERA.  In 1936, his ERA was fourth best in the league; 1935 was sixth best; 1934 was ninth best, and 1939 was eighth best.  He made six All-Star teams in his career.

Bridges went 1-1 in the 1934 World Series, losing game three to Paul Dean, but beating Dizzy Dean and the Cardinals in game five 3-1.  In the 1935 World Series against the Cubs he went 2-0, completing both of his starts, and clinching the series in game six, after retiring the side in the 9th inning of a 3-3 game with a runner on third, and nobody out.  The Tigers scored in the bottom of the 9th to win their first title in franchise history.

Bridges won 20 games in a season three times in his career, and was among the league leaders in strikeouts on a frequent basis.  He held the team record for career strikeouts until Hal Newhouser broke it in 1951.  Jack Morris would later break Newhouser’s record in 1988.  Bridges also missed three seasons due to military service.  If not for this, he would have certainly won over 200 games, and possibly seen election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

1936

23

11

3.60

137

294.2

175

38

26

5

AS

1935

21

10

3.51

118

274.1

163

34

23

4

AS

1934

22

11

3.67

119

275

151

35

23

3

AS

1939

17

7

3.50

139

198

129

26

16

2

AS

Prime

21

10

3.58

128

260.2

155

33

22

4

The next pitcher was the ace of the Tigers’ pitching staff from 1979 to 1990.  Jack Morris (R) won more games and pitched more innings than any pitcher in the 1980s.  He was the anchor on the pitching staff that won the 1984 World Series and 1987 Eastern Division title.  His pitching repertoire featured a mid-90s fastball, hard slider, and the best forkball in the league.  He had two seasons of twenty wins with Detroit, a nineteen win season, an eighteen win season, and two seventeen win seasons.  He was on pace to win 20 games in 1981, but the strike shortened the season to 109 games, and Morris ended the year with 14, which led the league (I would use that season for his prime season calculation, but could not come up with a fair way to calculate this with the others, so it was omitted).  He finished his tenure with Detroit two wins shy of 200, and for his career he ended up with 254 wins (42nd all-time).

Jack often gets criticized from a historic standpoint, because his ERA appears higher than dominant pitchers who came before him.  The criticism is that Morris won because he happened to be a good pitcher on teams with a great offense.  This isn’t quite fair, because 1) offenses changed in the 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in higher league ERAs than the 1960s and 1970s, and 2) Morris consistently finished in the top 5 in innings pitched, and the top 10 in ERA each year.  He also struck out over 200 batters per year, leading the league in this category in 1983, and finishing his career thirty-second on the all-time strikeout list, just shy of 2,500.  He earned every win he had as a Tiger.

Tiger fans will remember and appreciate the role Morris played on the 1984 club.  He won 19 games to lead the team (including throwing a no-hitter) for the season.  In the playoffs he won his only start in the ALCS as the Tigers swept the Royals, then went on to go 2-0 in the World Series, pitching complete games in both of his starts, and giving up 4 runs in his 18 innings of work.

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

1986

21

8

3.27

127

267

223

35

15

6

1983

20

13

3.34

117

293.2

232

37

20

1

1987

18

11

3.38

126

266

208

34

13

1

AS

Prime

20

11

3.33

123

275.2

221

35

16

3

I kept trying to exclude this next pitcher from this team.  He was not the ace of the staff when he played, and his win-loss record always seemed to hover just above .500.  His 14 year record with Detroit was 161-153, and his career record was 170-161.  Given all that, he was too good to leave off this team.  He helped Detroit win the 1945 World Series, going 1-1 in the series itself, but posting an ERA of 0.66.  This was the reason he earned a place on this team – every year Dizzy Trout (R) logged a lot of innings, finished near the top of the league in ERA, and did everything he could to help Detroit win games, including pitching in relief between starts and hit (he’s 11th all-time in home runs by a pitcher with 20).  This is the kind of player anybody wants on their team.

Trout is the rare exception whose record does not necessarily reflect the talent.  He won 20 games twice in a season (leading the league in 1943 while pitching on a .500 team), made two All-Star teams, and finished second in the MVP vote to teammate Hal Newhouser in 1944.  Notice when you see his prime numbers that only Verlander and Newhouser have a higher ERA+ than Trout on this team.  That’s what turned out to be the deciding factor when creating this roster.  You simply couldn’t ask more out of a pitcher than Trout gave.

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

1944

27

14

2.12

167

352.1

144

40

33

7

MVP Runner-up, AS (9 relief G)

1943

20

12

2.48

141

246.2

111

30

18

5

14 relief appearances, 6 saves

1946

17

13

2.34

157

276.1

151

32

23

5

6 relief appearances, 3 saves

1945

18

15

3.14

113

246.1

97

31

18

4

10 relief appearances, 2 saves

Prime

21

14

2.48

145

280.1

126

33

23

5

10 relief appearances, 3 saves

Initially when I came up with the list of pitchers I only wanted to list six players who were predominantly starters in their careers, while giving the other three places to relief pitchers. After debating with myself on it, I felt I needed a seventh, against only two relievers.  To top it off, I chose for my seventh starter a player who never led the Tigers to the playoffs, and only had 123 wins for Detroit (128 for his career).  Frank Lary (R, R) makes this team for posting great seasons on some very mediocre teams.  “Mule” pitched for Detroit from 1954 to 1964, when the New York Mets purchased his rights.  He was the ace of the 1961 team, which won 101 games, but lost the pennant to the Yankees.  In that season he won 23 games and finished third in the Cy Young vote, behind Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn (before 1966 only one Cy Young award was given per year).

Most impressive about the Frank Lary resume is that from 1955-1961, when the Yankees won six AL pennants, Lary posted a 27-10 record against the Bronx Bombers.  This earned him the nickname “Yankee Killer.”  He won twenty games twice – the first season was in 1956 when Detroit finished fifth (out of 8 teams) in the AL.  He led the league with 21 wins and 294 innings pitched, and finished sixth in the league with a 3.15 ERA.  He also led the league in innings pitched in 1958, and finished fourth in ERA, despite only having a 16-15 record on a .500 team.

Year

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

Notes

1961

23

9

3.24

127

275.1

146

36

22

4

#3 Cy Young, GG, AS

1956

21

13

3.15

132

294

165

38

20

3

1959

17

10

3.55

114

223

137

32

11

3

1958

16

15

2.90

139

260.1

131

34

19

3

Prime

19

12

3.20

128

263.1

145

35

18

3

Before I defend those picks, I want to give the two relief pitchers I chose for this team.   The first is, in my estimation, the greatest relief pitcher in Detroit history.  John Hiller (L) played for the Tigers from 1965 to 1980, and at the time of his retirement pitched in more games (545) than any other Tiger pitcher.  He also had 125 career saves, which was later surpassed by Mike Henneman and Todd Jones.  The difficulty of measuring Hiller’s performance over his career is that the 1970s was a transitional time for relief pitchers.  It is not unusual to see a closer save 30 or 40 games in a season now, but when Hiller saved 38 games in 1973, this was a Major League record.  Dan Quisenberry broke the record ten years later.  In 1974 Hiller set the American League record for wins by a relief pitcher with 17.  His role was not to come in for one inning and close out a game, but rather to come in whenever he was needed, which could be any inning of a game, and keep the team close, or stop the opposition from scoring any more runs.  John Hiller was a master in these situations, retiring with an ERA of 2.83, while typically logging 120+ innings per year.  Most impressive is that Hiller’s best seasons came after he had a heart attack in 1971.

In addition, Hiller appeared in thirty-nine games throughout the 1968 season, posting a 2.39 ERA, and pitched in two games in the World Series.  He also played a key role down the stretch in 1972, helping the Tigers win the Eastern Division.

Year

Wins

Losses

Saves

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

Games

Notes

1973

10

5

38

1.44

283

125.1

124

65

Comeback POY

1976

12

8

13

2.38

156

121

117

56

1974

17

14

13

2.64

143

150

134

59

AS

Prime

13

9

21

2.18

194

132

125

60

With only one position left on this team, and four deserving players, I was again left with a difficult choice.  In 2012, Jose Valverde (R) completed his three year stint with the Tigers.  He helped Detroit make the playoffs twice, and in 2011 he led the league with 49 saves, on 49 chances.  Unfortunately, his inability to pitch effectively in the 2012 playoffs left a stain on his record, and is the ultimate reason why I could not choose him for this spot.

Before Valverde, the most prominent closer was Todd Jones (R), who had two stints as a Tiger closer, from 1997-2001, and 2006-2008.  He finished his stint in Detroit with 206 saves, the current team record.  He also helped the Tigers make the 2006 World Series, saving 37 games.  I wanted to make a place for him on this team, but even though he produced big save numbers, his ERA always hovered in the high threes, which you can’t have from a closer position.  Jones seemed to lack the dominance you expect out of a one-inning, shutdown closer.

Before Jones broke the team record for saves, the record was held by Mike Henneman (R).  Henneman pitched for Detroit from 1987 to 1995, when he was traded to Houston.  He racked up 154 saves, relying on his forkball.  He took over the closer position in late 1987, saving seven games and helping the Tigers surge late in the season to win the Eastern Division.  I would have placed Henneman on this team, but the fact that his Tiger teams never made the playoffs other than 1987 meant I could not justify putting him on the team ahead of the other closers in team history.

With that, the closer I selected for the All-Time Tiger team is Willie Hernandez (L).  With the screwball as his out-pitch, Hernandez posted exactly three productive years with the Tigers before losing his effectiveness in 1987, having modest success in 1988, and being released in 1989.  Still, Hernandez was the final piece needed to help Detroit win the World Series in 1984.  He was traded to the Tigers from the Phillies before the 1984 season, and immediately took the closer role.  That year he pitched in an incredible 140 innings in 80 games, winning 9, saving 32 (in 33 chances), and posting an ERA of 1.92.  He won the Cy Young award and the American League MVP.  He also pitched five innings in the World Series, saved two games, and yielded one run.  He was on the mound when the Padres recorded their last out for the series.

Hernandez followed in 1985 with 31 saves and a second All-Star appearance.  In 1986 he posted 24 saves, and notched his third All-Star appearance.  The mid-1980s was just before teams figured out how to properly utilize closers, because in today’s game, no closer would log even 100 innings, yet Hernandez did that twice for Detroit.  This over-use is probably the reason he lost effectiveness so quickly in 1987.  Still, his later years with Detroit do not diminish his dominance as a closer for three incredible years.

Year

Wins

Losses

Saves

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

Games

Notes

1984

9

3

32

1.92

204

140.1

112

80

MVP, Cy Young, AS

1985

8

10

31

2.70

151

106.2

76

74

AS

1986

8

7

24

3.55

117

88.2

77

64

AS

Prime

8

7

29

2.60

157

112

88

73

That concludes the roster of the All-Time Detroit Tiger team.  I did want to take the time to mention the starting pitchers who missed the cut of this team, however.  The criticism I will probably get is that I left off the three pitchers who posted the most wins in team history, and I did.  I could also get the criticism that I didn’t place a pitcher before the 1930s on this team, not to mention a pitcher from the 1907 through 1909 seasons, when the Tigers won three American League pennants.  I feel justified in my choices, but will take the time to explain.

The first pitcher I snubbed is Hooks Dauss (R), the pitcher who has the most wins in team history with 222.  He pitched his entire career in Detroit from 1912 to 1926.  His nickname comes from his use of an excellent curveball.  Dauss pitched for no pennant winners during his tenure, although the 1915 team won 100 games, finishing one game behind Boston for the year.  That year Dauss had his best season, winning 24 games, posting a 2.50 ERA, and even finding time to make eleven relief appearances.  Those numbers today would win a Cy Young award, but in 1915 a 2.50 ERA was just a little below the league average, which was 2.93.  Dauss finished fifteenth among starting pitchers for ERA that year (the middle of the pack in an eight team league), which makes his numbers look less impressive.  This would also be the highest position he would finish in terms of league ERA for his career.  In the end, Dauss had a rubber arm, and won a lot of games on the back of the best hitters in the league, Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann, but he was not very dominant.

The second pitcher I left off was the ace of the early pennant winning teams, and is second in team history in career wins, with 209.  George Mullin (R) was another pitcher who could throw 300 innings per year, and still come back for more.  His best season was 1909, when he led the league with 29 wins for the pennant winning Tigers, and had an ERA of 2.22.  Again, by today’s standards these numbers look amazing.  Mullin’s ERA was 17th in the league that year, out of 34 starting pitchers who qualified based on innings pitched.  Mullin finished in the top ten in ERA one time, in 1903.  Beyond that, he hovered around the league average in ERA for his career, posting a career ERA+ of 101 (remember 100 is exactly the league average).  Like Dauss, I feel he doesn’t deserve a place on this team because I cannot see any dominant seasons he had as a pitcher.

The pitcher with the third most wins in team history (207) is the one most people will feel deserves a place on this team.  His 1968 World Series performance alone makes him a Detroit legend, going 3-0 with three complete games, and a 1.67 ERA, including his classic performance in game seven, when he outpitched Bob Gibson on two day’s rest.  Mickey Lolich (L) was the number two starter behind Denny McLain in 1968, winning seventeen games.  In 1970 he became the ace of the Tiger staff, and had career years in 1971 and 1972, while anchoring the team on to the 1972 Eastern Division title.  Here is what his prime season would look like (using his top four seasons):

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

21

12

2.92

121

304

255

39

20

1

The pure numbers suggest that Lolich is clearly a better pitcher than Frank Lary.  His prime season consists of more wins, a lower ERA, more innings and more strikeouts.  However, Lary twice led the league in innings pitched, while Lolich only accomplished this once.  The ERA+ is in Lary’s favor as well (128 to 121).  Again, we have to look at time period to determine who was more dominant, not just the pure statistics.  Even though their careers overlapped (in 1963 and 1964), hitters dominated in the late 1950s and early 1960s (especially the expansion year 1961).  1968 was considered “the year of the pitcher” because of the pitching records which fell in that season (Denny McLain’s 31 wins, and Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA both occurred that season).  In 1958 Frank Lary was fourth in the AL in ERA with a 2.90 (with an ERA+ of 139).  In 1971, when Lolich posted an ERA of 2.92 (with an ERA+ of 124), he finished tenth in the league.  Similarly, in 1972 Lolich had an ERA of 2.50 (with an ERA+ of 127), and this again was tenth.  In 1956, Lary had an ERA of 3.15, which appears high, but was sixth in the league (and yielded an ERA+ of 132).

Where I might get called out on this one is that Lary never played for a pennant winner, and that is fair.  Frank Lary was the ace of a team which won 101 games, however.  Plus, his success against the great Yankees teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s shows me that Frank Lary was a clutch performer.  Lolich did manage to help the Tigers make two post season appearances.  In 1968 Lolich was clearly not the ace of the pitching staff, Denny McLain was.  Is this a knock against Lolich?  No, and yes.  The Tigers don’t win the World Series without Lolich, but they don’t make the World Series without McLain.

In 1972 Lolich was the best pitcher on a playoff team.  That Detroit Tiger team finished with the third best record in the AL (86-70), behind both Oakland and Chicago (and both in the Western Division).  Frank Lary’s 1961 Tiger team had the second best record in the AL, and they won 101 games, but because of the rules of the day, they could not make the playoffs (and still would not have under the 1972 rules, because they were in the same division as the Yankees, who won the 1961 pennant).  I challenge anyone to show me how the 1972 Tigers were better than the 1961 Tigers.  This was a close decision, one which I have gone back and forth on, but I do feel that Frank Lary was the better pitcher than Lolich.

The next pitcher who was left off was a key component of the 1934 and 1935 teams, along with making a large contribution to the 1940 pennant winning team.  Schoolboy Rowe (R) was a very popular player in his day, and a helped give a formidable 1-2 punch along with Tommy Bridges.  His best season was in 1934, when he posted a 24-8 record, with a 3.45 ERA (good for sixth in the league).  He won 19 games in 1935, and another 19 in in 36.  Here is what his prime season would look like (using his top four seasons):

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

20

9

3.79

122

239

116

31

18

4

Each of Rowe’s numbers are just slightly behind Tommy Bridges.  Rowe’s ERA appears high, but his ERA+ is just below that of Jack Morris, and just above Mickey Lolich.  Rowe gave a lot of innings, pitched in relief when needed, and became a fan favorite with his easy going, friendly manner.  He just misses making this team, however, because Bridges edges him out in each category.

The last pitcher I left off this team is actually a Hall of Fame pitcher.  He started with the Tigers, before coming into his own with the Phillies in the National League.  Over his career he pitched two no-hitters (one being a perfect game), and at his retirement he had the second most strikeouts in Major League history with 2,855 (it now stands as 17th).  He won 224 games, 118 with Detroit.  Jim Bunning did not make this team, because I felt his accomplishments were overshadowed by Frank Lary, who was hit teammate from 1955 to 1963.

Wins

Losses

ERA

ERA+

Innings

K

GS

CG

ShO

19

10

3.16

127

264.3

187

34

13

3

He and Frank Lary provided a potent 1-2 punch, and their numbers are very similar over this span.  Bunning had one monster year in 1957, where he led the league with 20 wins, and had the third best ERA in the league at 2.69.  Beyond that season, Frank Lary was the dominant pitcher on the team.  In the 1961 season, when Detroit won 101 games, Bunning managed a 17-11 record, with a 3.19 ERA.  If Bunning had his best years in baseball as a Tiger, he would get stronger consideration, but as it stands, he is known more for his years with Philadelphia, and rightfully so.

I am sure many people would disagree with my choices.  I challenge anyone to come up with their own criteria for selecting a team, and then go through the process of actually picking their All-Time Detroit Tiger team.  Or, better yet, pick a different team to do this with.  I would love to compare this team to other teams in Major League baseball.

Starting Pitchers:

Hal Newhouser (L)

Justin Verlander (R)

Denny McLain (R)

Tommy Bridges (R)

Jack Morris (R)

Dizzy Trout (R)

Frank Lary (R)

Relievers:

John Hiller (L)

Willie Hernandez (L)

Up Next: Batting Order and Pitching Rotation

All-Time Detroit Tiger Catchers

Throughout the history of the Tiger organization, catchers have played a very prominent role in leading the team to the World Series.  Because of that, the challenge I had with the All-Tiger team was narrowing down the position to two players.  In reality I could easily place 4 players on this squad, and I would have no issue with any of these 4 players being placed on this team.

The Detroit Tigers played 35 seasons before winning their first World Series.  They won 4 American League pennants without being able to overcome the National League in the Fall Classic.  Their fifth pennant was the charm, as they defeated the Chicago Cubs in 1935 to become World Series Champions.

Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s the two dominant teams in the American League were the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics.  Upon falling on financial difficulty in 1933, Connie Mack began to sell off his cache of talent to other big league teams.  It was at this time the Tigers obtained Mickey Cochrane.  Cochrane immediately improved the team from an offensive standpoint, handling the pitchers, and managing the Tigers.  Cochrane’s addition was the key that pushed Detroit over the top, allowing the Tigers to win the pennant in 1934 (losing a thrilling series in 7 games to the Cardinals) and winning the World Series in 1935.  Unfortunately for Cochrane, he only played two full seasons for Detroit, as injuries limited his play in 1936 to 44 games, and 27 games in 1937, when his playing days ended.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

BB

K

Notes

1934

.320

2

76

140

74

32

78

26

MVP, AS

1935

.319

5

47

131

93

33

96

15

AS

Prime

.319

4

62

136

84

33

87

21

The 1960s saw the rest of the American League chasing down the Yankees.  New York won each pennant from 1960 to 1964, followed by Minnesota, Baltimore, Boston, and Detroit in 1968.  The mainstay behind the plate for the Tigers during this decade was Bill Freehan (R, R).  Freehan made 11 All-Star teams (the most ever by a player not in the Hall of Fame), won 5 Gold Glove awards, and retired with the highest fielding percentage of any catcher in history (it was later broken in 2002 by Dan Wilson), most putouts (later broken by Gary Carter), and most total chances by a catcher (later broken by Bob Boone).  He had a .262 career batting average, and hit 200 home runs in his 15 years.  He was runner-up for the American League MVP award in 1968 (behind teammate Denny McLain), and was key in helping the Tigers win the World Series that year, as well as the Eastern Division title in 1972.  After he retired in 1975, he helped an up and coming catcher named Lance Parrish with his technique behind the plate.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

BB

Notes

1964

.300

18

80

156

69

14

8

36

AS

1967

.282

20

74

146

66

23

1

73

GG,AS

1974

.297

18

60

132

58

17

5

42

1968

.263

25

84

142

73

25

2

65

MVP Runner-up, GG, AS

Prime

.285

20

75

144

67

20

4

54

In the late 1970s the Detroit franchise saw a youth movement, as several players who would later become the core of the 1984 team began to cut their teeth in the majors.  Among those who started their career in Detroit in the late 70s were Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Aurelio Lopez, Kirk Gibson, and Lance Parrish (R, R).  When Sparky Anderson arrived to manage the team in 1979, he claimed he could win a World Series in 5 seasons.  These guys made that prediction come true.

Lance Parrish’s influence on the team was vital, because he was not only the best defensive catcher in the league during the early to mid-80s (3 Gold Glove awards), but he was also the clean-up hitter on the 1984 team, hitting 33 home runs (an American League record for catchers)and driving in 98 runs.
He had a great arm behind the plate, often leading the league in one category or other for assists, throwing runners out stealing, and percentage of runners caught stealing.  He ended his career with 324 home runs, 299 of which were hit in the American League (6th all-time for AL catchers).  He was an 8-time All-Star for his career, and 6 times while with Detroit.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

SB

Notes

1980

.286

24

82

158

79

34

6

6

AS

1982

.284

32

87

138

75

19

2

3

AS

1983

.269

27

114

163

80

42

3

1

GG, AS

1985

.273

28

98

150

64

27

1

2

GG, AS

Prime

.278

28

95

152

75

31

3

3

The fourth major impact catcher in Tiger history was Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (R, R).  The Tigers signed Pudge in 2004 to a 4-year contract.  At the time he was a 32 year old catcher, with a recent history of injury issues with his knees and back.  No other team in the league was willing to offer him a 4-year contract, and the Tigers were at the time the laughing stock of baseball.

Going into 2004, Detroit had last seen a winning season in 1991, when they won 84 games, and they had not made the playoffs since 1987.  Worse, in 2003 they lost 119 games, earning consideration as one of the worst teams in baseball history.  Pudge Rodriguez was just coming off a World Series win with the Marlins, but in typical Florida Marlin’s fashion, his contract was not picked up at the end to the year.  The Tigers needed a marquee ballplayer who could lead their team back to respectability.  They rolled the dice on Pudge, and did the same with Magglio Ordonez in 2005.

Instantly the message was out that Detroit was an OK place to play ball again.  Other players were willing to consider coming to Detroit, because Detroit was now willing to pay for good players.  The gamble paid off.  By 2006, the Tigers were back in the World Series, and Pudge was a key component in the team’s newfound success.

Rodriguez is considered by many estimates to be the best defensive catcher who ever played (fans of Johnny Bench will no doubt disagree).  For his career he threw out over 45% of the runners trying to steal off of him.  The league average is about 20 points below that.  He had a career batting average of .296, 2,844 hits, and 311 home runs; amazing statistics when you consider the wear and tear a catcher endures over the course of any year, not to mention a career.  He was a 14-time All-Star (earning 4 selections with the Tigers), and 13-time Gold Glove winner (earning 3 in Detroit), and he won the American League MVP in 1999 while playing for the Texas Rangers.  More importantly to Tiger fans, he brought respectability back to Motown.  Without Pudge, I don’t see a way the Tigers win the American League Championship in 2006.  Not only was his presence on the field important, but because of the respect he had with players around the league, when he came to Detroit, others were more willing to give the Tigers a chance as well.  I view his addition to the team as being as important as the addition of Mickey Cochrane in 1934.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

SB

Notes

2004

.334

19

86

176

72

32

2

7

GG, AS

2006

.300

13

69

164

74

28

4

8

GG, AS

2007

.281

11

63

141

50

31

3

2

GG, AS

Prime

.305

14

73

160

65

30

3

6

 Who would you choose?  If Cochrane had a third productive year, he would be on this team.  His leadership was second to none, and he helped the Tigers win their first World Series.  Since he is not eligible based on my criteria, I am left with choosing two players from the other three.

Defensively, all three were at the top of the league when they played in Detroit.  Pudge may be the best of the bunch, but he was in the twilight of his career in Detroit.  His best defensive years were a little behind him, although he was still the best in the league at his position while with the Tigers.

Freehan and Parrish both played on World Series winners, and both were key in the offensive production of the teams when they won the World Series.  Both also produced better power numbers than Pudge, and this with the consideration that Freehan had to play in one of the most difficult hitting eras in baseball history.  Pudge, however, did hit for high average, and had some pop in his bat as well.

On this one, I wish I could take all three catchers, but when I look at the overall body of work, and what each player did for Detroit, I have to give an edge to Bill Freehan and Lance Parrish.  They played the best of their careers with Detroit (and Freehan did not play anywhere else).  Their impact on the Tigers is greater as a whole, and if for no other reason, they both were catchers on World Series Championship teams.  I love Pudge Rodriguez, and enjoyed watching him play as much as I ever enjoyed any player, but when I have to choose an All-Time Detroit Tiger team, I cannot leave off Bill Freehan or Lance Parrish.

All-Tiger Catchers:

Bill Freehan

Lance Parrish

Up next: Pitchers

All-Time Detroit Tiger Shortstop and Second Base

Up to this point in selecting the best Detroit Tiger players of all time, I have made some difficult, and no doubt unpopular choices on the group of players I would select to this elite team.  The arguments get to take a rest when it comes to discussing the middle infield of the team.  There are 4 players who stand head and shoulders above all other players at the shortstop and second base positions.  This was the easiest part of my selection process after choosing Ty Cobb and Al Kaline for the All-Tiger outfield.

Charlie Gehringer (L, R), known as the “Mechanical Man” for his durability and consistency, goes down in history as one of the greatest second basemen to ever play the game.  He retired with a .320 lifetime average, 2,839 career hits, and 574 doubles (20th all-time).  He twice had consecutive games played streaks over 500.
  He was the dominant defensive second baseman of his day, and was a member of 3 pennant winning teams (1934, 1935, and 1940).  In post season play, he also compiled a .321 batting average.  His best year is considered to be 1937, when he won the MVP and batting title (hitting .371).  In 1934 he was runner-up to teammate Mickey Cochrane for the MVP award as well.  A very quiet man, Charlie Gehringer went about his business and played amazing baseball.  He played every inning in each of the first 6 All-Star games conducted by Major League baseball.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

BB

Notes

1937

.371

14

96

209

133

40

1

90

MVP, AS

1936

.354

15

116

227

144

60

12

83

AS

1934

.356

11

127

214

134

50

7

99

MVP Runner-up, AS

1929

.339

13

106

215

131

45

19

64

Prime

.355

13

111

216

136

49

10

84

The other second baseman was also easy to choose.  Lou Whitaker (L, R) began his career with Detroit in 1977, and won the Rookie of the Year award in 1978 when he hit .285 and scored 71 runs.  He was the lead-off hitter on the 1984 World Series Champion team due to the difficulty to strike him out, his patience at the plate, and his base running ability.  Later in his career he batted clean-up because of his ability to drive the ball (he hit 28 home runs in 1989, his highest for a single season).  He won 3 Gold Gloves and was a 5-time All-Star.  He and Alan Trammell hold the record for most games played by a double-play combination (over 1,900 games).  That record was once held by former Tigers Charlie Gehringer and Billy Rogell.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

SB

BB

Notes

1983

.320

12

72

206

94

40

17

67

GG, AS

1991

.279

23

78

131

94

26

4

90

1984

.289

13

56

161

90

25

6

62

GG, AS

1985

.279

21

83

170

102

29

6

80

GG, AS

Prime

.293

17

72

167

95

30

8

75

1978 ROY

The shortstop position was another easy spot to fill on the field, because there are two players who stand above the rest in Tiger history here.  The first was a 6-time All-Star, who won 4 Gold Gloves, and in his only World Series appearance hit .450 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI garnering the MVP.  Alan Trammell (R, R) was the best player on the Tiger teams of the 1980s.  He had his best seasons in 1987 (when he was runner-up to George Bell for MVP) and 1984, both years in which the Tigers made the post season.  In all, Tram had seven seasons of batting .300 or better, and compiled 2,365 hits in his career.  He also had excellent speed on the base paths, stealing 20 or more bases in multiple seasons, including 1987, when he stole 21 bases on 23 attempts.

He could hit for power, having two 20 home-run seasons, with his best in 1987, when he was asked to bat clean-up, and followed with 28 knocks.  Up until then, Trammell was typically the number 2 hitter in the order, following Whitaker.  I think it gets overlooked how much these two set up the rest of the batting order by getting on base, being disruptive to pitchers and defenses, and scoring runs.  They both had the ability to hit for power, and did when called upon to do so, but before anything, they did everything to help the team win games.

After Cobb and Kaline, I consider Alan Trammell the most important Detroit Tiger to ever wear the uniform (and that is not to disrespect Greenberg or Gehringer, who are among the elites in the history of the game.  Both were so great, and given the benefit of playing at the same time, it is too difficult to choose one as more important than the other between 1934 and 1940, when the team had so much success).  He didn’t have the gaudy numbers of the other players, but when you consider that the shortstop position has historically been a defensive position, and Trammell not only excelled defensively, but also offensively for many years, his importance to the organization cannot be overstated.

Trammell and Whitaker also hold the distinction of turning more double-plays than any combination in the history of the game.  They were as much fun to watch defensively as at the plate or on the bases.  Having a shortstop with the abilities of Alan Trammell for twenty seasons was a delight to all Tiger fans.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

SB

Notes

1987

.343

28

105

205

109

34

3

21

MVP Runner-up, AS

1983

.319

14

66

161

83

31

2

30

Comeback POY, GG

1984

.314

14

69

174

85

34

5

19

GG, AS

1990

.304

14

89

170

71

37

1

12

AS

Prime

.320

18

82

178

87

34

3

21

The next player to be on the All-Tiger team played shortstop for 6 years before switching to the outfield.  Harvey Kuenn (R, R) started his career in Detroit in 1952.  His first full season, 1953, resulted in him batting .308, and leading the league with 209 hits.  He earned the American League Rookie of the Year award, along with his first All-Star appearance.  He would make 6 more All-Star teams for Detroit, and total 10 for his career.  A line-drive, spray hitter, Kuenn’s best season came in 1959 when he won the batting title with a .353 average.  That year was the first season he played as a regular outfielder; he would not play shortstop again.

Perhaps the thing Harvey Kuenn is best known for is that after winning the batting title in 1959, he was traded to Cleveland for Rocky Colavito, the 1959 American League home run leader.  Colavito lasted four seasons with Detroit (and gave the Tigers good production), while Kuenn lasted one season in Cleveland before getting traded to San Francisco.  “Colavito’s Curse” lives on in Cleveland to this day, as the Indians have not won a World Series since his departure (but they came close in 1997).

Harvey Kuenn retired with 2,092 career hits, and a .303 career batting average, but had a .314 average in his 7 years as a Tiger.  It is unfortunate that he (along with George Kell) did not participate in the post season with Detroit, as the Tigers (and everyone else in the American League) were looking up to the Yankees from 1949 through 1964.  Still, his 7 seasons in Detroit were outstanding, earning him a place as one of the best Tigers to ever play.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

SB

Notes

1959

.353

9

71

198

99

42

7

7

AS

1956

.332

12

88

196

96

32

7

9

AS

1958

.319

8

54

179

75

39

8

5

AS

1953

.308

2

48

209

94

33

7

6

ROY, AS

Prime

.327

8

65

196

91

37

7

7

Again, I feel an honorable mention needs to be given to Travis Fryman, who is probably the third best shortstop in Tiger history.  His power numbers, combined with his great arm and solid fielding make him a tough choice to leave off the team both at third base and shortstop.  Still, there is little doubt who the two best shortstops the Tiger organization has produced in its 112 year history.  Trammell and Kuenn are far ahead of the rest of the field on this one.

All-Tiger Second Base:

Charlie Gehringer

Lou Whitaker

All-Tiger Shortstop:

Alan Trammell

Harvey Kuenn

Up Next: Catchers

All-Time Detroit Tiger First Base and Third Base

When I started the process of creating an All-Time, All-Tiger Team I initially considered printing only one position at a time.  I ran into two issues with this: 1) Besides pitchers and outfielders, each position would only have 2 players listed, which I felt was too short.  2) When I listed the players I would place at first base, people would disagree with me for obvious reasons.  I decided that in order to explain myself, I would put first base and third base together.  Keep reading.

Stats are scrutinized, measured, and loved in baseball more than any other sport.  The greatness of a player in this sport not only gets measured by single season accomplishments, but also career accomplishments.  3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins – these all represent milestones which place a player in an elite grouping.  The 1940s challenge this notion, because many players lost 4 years (or more) of their careers to WWII.  Our imaginations stretch at the numbers great players like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams would have hit had they not gone to war.  Likewise, Bob Feller had a great career with 266 wins, but with 4 extra seasons, what would that number have been?

The same question gets asked of the greatest first baseman the Tigers have ever had – Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg (R, R). The original “Hammerin’ Hank” amassed 58 home runs in 1938 (a record for right handed hitters until 1998), and he was the first Tiger to win multiple MVP awards, leading Detroit to the pennant in both years he won the award.  He was the first American League player drafted into the army in 1940 (after his staggering season at the plate), and he served from 1941 through 1945.  In 1946, he had 44 home runs and 127 RBI in his first full season back (he was able to play a limited role on the 1945 World Series Champion).  He finished his career with a .313 batting average, and 331 home runs.  Even if he only averaged 35 home runs per season for the 5 seasons he was in the service, he would have finished his career with 506 home runs.  At 40 home runs per season, he would have reached 531 career home runs.  He deserves to be named in the same breath as Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig when the discussion of greatest first baseman comes up.

Greenberg began his career with Detroit in 1930, but broke into the lineup in 1933.  He was instrumental in helping the Tigers with the 1934 and 1935 pennants.  He earned MVP honors in 1935 when he batted .328 (7th), hit 36 home runs (1st), and amassed 170 RBI (1st), which was 51 RBI higher than second place Lou Gehrig.  He had record 103 RBI at the All-Star break, but did not make the All-Star team that year.  In 1937, he had the second highest RBI total in American League history with 183 (one behind Lou Gehrig’s AL record of 184, and 7 behind Hack Wilson’s Major League record of 190).  He got his second MVP award in 1940, hitting .340, with 41 home runs and 150 RBI.  Interestingly, Greenberg played the 1940 season in left field, to make room for another heavy hitter, Rudy York, who was more of a liability in the field than Hank.  The move did not hurt Greenberg’s numbers.  Here is what could be expected of this slugger in his prime:

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

BB

Notes

1938

.315

58

146

175

144

23

4

119

AS

1940

.340

41

150 

195

129

50

8

93

MVP, AS

1937

.337

40

183

200

137

49

14

102

AS

1935

.328

36

170

203

121

46

16

87

MVP

Prime

.330

44

162

193

133

42

11

100

The second player I would put at first base is the man who Hank Greenberg moved to left field to make room for in the line-up, Rudy York (R, R).  This is probably a surprise to many, but it really shouldn’t be.  York was a powerful hitter, but he had trouble finding a place which suited him in the field.  Manager Mickey Cochrane had to find a place for him somewhere (in the pre-DH days of the AL), and eventually he settled on first base.

In 1937, Mickey Cochrane’s career ended as a catcher when he was hit in the head by a pitch.  The Tigers were floundering as a team, and he wanted to find a way to kick start the team.  Cochrane inserted Rudy York in the line-up as a catcher (even though he was a defensive liability), and in 104 games played (and 375 at bats), York hit .307 with 35 home runs, and 103 RBI.  Imagine what he could have done with another 50 games and 200 at bats.  He hit 18 home runs in September alone, breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 17, and he also had 49 RBI that month, breaking the record of 48 set by Lou Gehrig.  After this, it was determined that a position in the field would be found for him, because York’s bat would offset any liability he presented in the field.

In 1940, York settled in at first base, and hit .316, with 33 home runs and 134 RBI.  He and Hank Greenberg established the best 1-2 punch in the league, and this led the Tigers to the American League pennant. In all, he made the All-Star team 6 times while with Detroit, and slugged 239 home runs before being traded to Boston after the 1945 season.  Just like the Tigers of that era, York is simply too good not to place somewhere on this team.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

BB

Notes

1940

.316

33

134

186

105

46

6

89

1937

.307

35

103

115

72

18

3

41

104 games

1938

.298

33

127

138

85

27

1

92

AS

1943

.271

34

118

155

90

22

11

84

AS

Prime

.297

34

121

149

88

28

5

77

The question of who may have deserved to be here should naturally arise.  There are several players who could easily fill the role of first base, not least of which is Miguel Cabrera.  I will wait until I complete the other first base omissions before I address Miguel Cabrera.

Those who grew up watching the Tigers in the 1960s will wonder why I left Norm Cash (L, L) off this team.  Cash was a long-time Tiger (1960 to 1974), who finished his career second in club history with 373 home runs, and helped Detroit win the World Series in 1968.  On top of that, he had one of the great seasons in baseball history in 1961.  Let’s look at Cash’s top four seasons, and the resulting prime season:

Year

Average

Home Runs

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

1961

.361

41

132

193

119

22

1966

.279

32

93

168

98

18

1971

.283

32

91

128

72

10

1962

.243

39

89

123

94

16

Prime

.292

36

101

153

96

17

Cash’s power numbers are good.  His home runs are a little higher than York, but his average and RBI are a lot lower.  He gets a nudge because he was on the 1968 and 1972 teams, but York gets the same consideration, being a member of 2 pennant winners (1940 and 1945).  The real issue I have with Cash is that his best year was far superior to any other year he had, which means he lacked overall consistency.  Cash hit .361 in 1961, and never batted above .283 again in his career.  He hit 41 home runs in 1961, but never hit 40 in any other year (although he hit 39 in 1962, but only managed a .243 average).  He had 132 RBI in 1961, but never drove in 100 again.  Although it is unfair to discount a player’s best season, if I were to take away both Cash’s and York’s best single season, and count only their next three best years, this is how they would stack up:

Average

Home Runs

RBI

Cash

.269

34

91

York

.289

34

116

Cash’s average drops severely once 1961 is taken away (a 23-point decline), while York’s average goes down 8 points.  Cash loses 2 home runs, while York maintains his 34 (which is now equal to Cash).  Cash also loses 10 RBI, while York’s goes down 5, but still remains high at 116 (and 25 RBI higher than Cash’s 91).
The bottom line for me with “Stormin’ Norman” is that I feel he lacked the consistency of other players, and that I would be placing him on this team on account of one great season.  He had other decent seasons, but nothing approaching 1961.  It was a tough cut, but one I feel justified in making.
The other first baseman who many will think earned a spot on this team would be Cecil Fielder (R, R), the only Tiger (after Greenberg) to hit 50 home runs in a season.
Big Daddy finished second in the American League MVP voting two years in a row in 1990 and 1991.  He played for Detroit from 1990 to 1996, when he was traded to the Yankees.  Few hitters were as exciting to watch at the plate than Fielder.  I attended several Tiger games in the 1990s simply to watch him play.  Even when he struck out, it was amazing to behold.  Still, even with his two great seasons, his numbers fall just short, mainly because he did not hit for high average.  Below is his prime season compiled from his three best seasons in Detroit.

3 Year Prime

Average

Home Runs

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

.260

43

130

156

95

24

Fielder had great power numbers.  An argument could be made to add him to this team, and many others would make the case for him, because he was a superior home run hitter.  For me York has 2 advantages: 1) He was on the pennant winning 1940 team, and happened to have his best year that year.  He was also on the World Series winning 1945 team, although his skills were in decline.  The Tigers competed for a division title in 1991, but never made the playoffs with Cecil Fielder on the team.  2) York was a .300 hitter.  This debate could go on for years, but in my estimation, when runners are on base the home run is a beautiful thing, but I will take a single or a double just as well.  York had a greater likelihood to get a hit, any hit, with runners on than Fielder.  With that, let’s not discount the fact that York’s prime included 34 home runs as well.  I’ll take York, again by just the slightest of margins.
That leads me to Miguel Cabrera (R, R).  Many people would say that surely his numbers are better than York’s, and you would be correct.  Cabrera deserves to be on this team, but I didn’t add him as a first baseman so I could put him at third base.  I did this little switch because I was having such a difficult time narrowing down the first basemen for this team as it was, and since Cabrera also plays third base, as he did when we won the Triple Crown in 2012, while leading Detroit to the World Series.
Cabrera helped the Florida Marlins win the World Series over the New York Yankees in his rookie year of 2003.  From 2004 through 2007, he torched National League pitching.  After the 2007 season, the Tigers traded for Miggy, and gave him an 8 year extension to his contract.  Since 2008, he has been arguably the best hitter in baseball.

In 2008, Cabrera led the American League with 37 home runs.  In 2010, he finished second in MVP voting when he hit .328, with 38 home runs, and led the league with 126 RBI.  He followed that in 2011 with a .344 average, 30 home runs, and 105 RBI, while leading the Tigers to the ALCS.  In 2012, all the stars aligned as Cabrera hit .330 with 44 home runs, and 139 RBI to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and second Triple Crown winner for Detroit.  He won the league MVP, and led the Tigers to the World Series.

Although he is currently not threatening to win a Gold Glove at third base, Cabrera took to the position better than many people expected in 2012.  With Prince Fielder playing first base for the foreseeable future, Cabrera will have time to grow into this position.  Here is how he looks in his prime, which is not over by any stretch:

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

SB

BB

Notes

2012

.330

44

139

205

109

40

4

66

MVP, Triple Crown, AS

2010

.328

38

126

188

111

45

1

89

MVP Runner-up, AS

2011

.344

30

105

197

111

48

0

108

AS

2009

.324

34

103

198

96

34

6

68

Prime

.331

37

118

197

107

42

3

83

These numbers compare very well with Greenberg’s, which is one reason why I wanted to make room for both on this team.  I could have placed Greenberg in the outfield, but with 4 Hall of Fame players there already, that didn’t seem appropriate.  Instead, I would rather place Cabrera at third, where there is less historical talent, and therefore a need for a slugger.
With that being said, there is still a Tiger player who represented himself very well at third.  In fact, this player is in the Hall of Fame, and in his day, was considered the best defensive third baseman in the league.  Another gentleman of the game, and long-time play-by-play announcer for the Tigers, the other choice for All-Tiger third baseman is George Kell (R, R).

Kell played for five teams in his 15 year career, and managed a .306 career batting average (.325 for Detroit).  He hit .300 or better in 9 of his 15 seasons, made 10 All-Star teams (6 as a Tiger), and led all third basemen in fielding percentage 7 times (This was the era just prior to Gold Glove awards being given).  His best years were with Detroit, where he played from 1946 to 1952.  In 1949, he batted .343, winning the batting title, and edging out Ted Williams, who was .0002 from winning his third Triple Crown.  Kell was also a very difficult strikeout, typically striking out only 15 to 20 times per season.  He is an obvious choice to be added to this team.

Year

Average

HR

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

Triples

K

Notes

1950

.340

8

101

218

114

56

6

18

AS

1949

.343

3

59

179

97

38

9

13

AS

1947

.320

5

93

188

75

29

5

16

AS

1951

.319

2

59

191

92

36

3

18

AS

Prime

.330

5

78

194

95

40

6

16

There really is no other discussion as far as third basemen go.  After George Kell, the talent falls off dramatically.  The next best third baseman would be Marv Owen, who was on both the 1934 and 1935 teams.  He was an excellent fielder, and in 1934 he hit .317 with 8 home runs and 96 RBI.  He never had another year that approached this one.  His career batting average was a solid, but not spectacular .275.

Some fans would want Brandon Inge to be in the discussion here, but a career .234 hitter simply does not deserve consideration on any All-Time Team.  The one person who deserves an honorable mention here would be Travis Fryman (R, R).  He was a solid third baseman before taking over the shortstop role in Detroit.  He also had decent power.  His prime numbers look like this:

3 year prime

Average

Home Runs

RBI

Hits

Runs

Doubles

.281

22

100

170

93

32

He wouldn’t be a bad selection, but in the end Kell is a better defensive choice, while also hitting for much better average (and having a Hall of Fame resume to boot).

The last third baseman I want to mention is Ray Boone (father of Bob Boone, and grandfather of Bret & Aaron Boone).  He played for Detroit from 1953 to 1958 (replacing Kell after he was traded), made two All-Star teams, and had three strong seasons.  His prime season would consist of a .295 average, with 22 home runs, and 94 RBI (very comparable to Fryman).  He would average 150 hits, with 7 triples, 71 runs, and only 49 strikeouts.  He doesn’t get more serious consideration, though, because his production fell as quickly as it rose, and Detroit was not very relevant in these years.

In the end, I felt third base was the weakest position on this team, but I felt I made it a strength by placing Miguel Cabrera in the hot corner, with George Kell as a defensive (and contact) option.  Plus, I wanted a way to get Rudy York on this team; a superior option to Travis Fryman  and Ray Boone at the plate.  Juggling around the positions slightly allowed me to do just that.

All-Tiger First Base:

Hank Greenberg

Rudy York

All-Tiger Third Base:

Miguel Cabrera

George Kell

 Next up: Middle Infielders