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

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