Going back a few months, I was surfing the pages of ESPN and came across an all time greatest countdown for the New York Yankees. Paging through the countdown, I began to wonder if a one for our beloved Detroit Tigers existed. Remarkably, it didn’t. So I began to formulate an idea of making one myself. After going through Retrosheet and Wikipedia vigorously, I started to become very familiar with the history of the Detroit Tigers and the players throughout Tiger history. This project is the product of countless hours of statistical analysis, fact checking, research and an interview here or there. I’d like to thank , David Morehouse, my impromptu statistician, my father, Joseph Sr. for knowledge of the team that extends beyond my own, Retrosheet.org, for being an invaluable resource, and the Detroit Tigers for giving me a passionate hobby for the last few months.
Without further ado, here are the greatest Detroit Tigers of All-Time.
50. Larry Herndon
1982-1988, Left Field
Career with Detroit: .278 AVG, 83 HR, 364 RBI, 358 R, 32 SB, 765 H, 222 BB, .331 SLG, .436 OBP
1983: .302 BA, 20 HR, 92 RBI, 182 H, 88 R, 46 BB, .351 OBP, .478 SLG
- World Series Champion (1984)
Larry Herndon was a fan favorite in the 1980s and was in the middle of many of the Tigers’ great moments. He hit a two-run home run in Game 1 of the 1984 World Series against San Diego to clinch the first game and caught the last out of the Series to set off a legendary celebration. Herndon also hit a solo home run three years later on the final day of the 1987 season to give Frank Tanana a 1-0 lead to protect as the Tigers won the AL East over the Blue Jays. Herndon retired in 1988 and is currently a coach for the Tigers’ minor league affiliate, the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
49. Bobby Higginson
1995-2005, Right Field
Career with Detroit: .272 AVG, 187 HR, 709 RBI, 736 R, 91 SB, 1336 H, 649 BB, .358 OBP, .455 SLG
1996: .320 BA, 26 HR, 81 RBI, 141 H, 75 R, 65 BB, .404 OBP, .577 SLG
- 1/19 players in MLB history to hit .300, score over 100 runs, hit 30 home runs, hit 44 doubles, drive in over 100 RBI, and steal 15 bases in one year (2000)
- 2x Tiger of the Year (’97, ’00)
Bobby Higginson is one of the most under appreciated Tigers in franchise history. He played during the Randy Smith era, a time when the Tigers didn’t have a real sense of direction. The team struggled in the win column but Higginson shined. He was the best player on one of the worst teams and there was probably too much pressure on him to lead the team towards success. Unfortunately, he never won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, or was named as an All-Star. He retired in 2005 after an elbow injury and now runs a limousine company in Oakland County, MI. Despite not having much success as a team, it was Higginson that kept the seat warm for the new wave of Tiger talent that would make it to the 2006 World Series.
48. Jim Northup
1964-1973, Right Field
Career with Detroit: .267 AVG, 145 HR, 570 RBI, 571 R, 39 SB, 1184 H, 420 BB, .332 OBP, .430 SLG
1968: .264 BA, 21 HR, 90 RBI, 153 H, 76 R, 50 BB, .324 OBP, .447 SLG
- World Series champion (1968)
- Game winning hit of HOF pitcher Bob Gibson in Game 7 of ’68 World Series
- 13th in AL MVP voting (1968)
Jim Northup is yet another hero from the glory that was 1968. Arriving to the Tigers in 1964, he competed with Al Kaline, Willie Horton, and Mickey Stanley for playing time in the outfield. Northup’s greatest achievement was in the 1968 World Series as he was one of the few Tigers that had success against Cardinals’ ace Bob Gibson. His triple over the head of St. Louis centerfielder Curt Flood scored two runs late in the game to clinch the Series for Detroit. Northup would play for the Tigers his entire career, retired from baseball in 1974 and would be a color commentator from 1985 to 1994. He died on June 8, 2011 from a seizure. He was 71.
47. Billy Rogell
Career with Detroit: .274 AVG, 35 HR, 532 RBI, 668 R, 76 SB, 1210 H, 590 BB, .357 OBP, .372 SLG
1933: .295 BA, 0 HR, 57 RBI, 173 H, 67 R, 79 BB, .381 OBP, .404 SLG
- Fielding percentage leader at SS (’35-’37)
- World Series champion (1935)
An incredible fielder, Rogell was paired with Hall of Fame second baseman, Charlie Gehringer and the duo would lead the league in double plays. Rogell and Gehringer would play over 1000 games together and would be one of the longest tenured double play combinations in baseball. Billy was no slouch with the bat either. He batted .296 in 1934 and was a part of one of the best infields in baseball history (Rogell, Marv Owen, Gehringer, and Hank Greenberg). Rogell was eventually traded to the Cubs in 1940 after his performance suffered and he retired after one year in Chicago. He came back to Detroit in 1942 to join the Detroit City Council, a position he would hold until 1980. He threw out the first pitch at the final game at Tiger Stadium on September 27, 1999, almost 70 years after he made his major league debut at the same park. He died of pneumonia in Sterling Heights, MI in 2003. He was 98.
46. Lance Parrish
Career with Detroit: .263 AVG, 212 HR, 700 RBI, 577 R, 22 SB, 1123 H, 334 BB, .317 OBP, .469 SLG
1980: .286 BA, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 158 H, 79 R, 31 BB, .325 OBP, .499 SLG
- 6x All-Star (’80, ’82-’86)
- World Series champion (1984)
- 3x Gold Glove winner (’83-’85)
- 5x Silver Slugger (’80, ’82-’84, ’86)
- Caught Jack Morris’ no-hitter (1984)
Lance Parrish is one of the many generational talents at catcher the Tigers have had over the years. Originally drafted in 1974, he was converted to catcher in the minors before making his Major League debut in 1977. Parrish was a good hitter for a catcher and was instrumental in learning the young pitching staff the Tigers had in the late 70s and early 80s. He caught a no-hitter for Jack Morris in April of 1984 and anchored the lineup during the season as the cleanup hitter. Additionally, he set an AL record for most home runs as a catcher with 33 in 1984. Parrish left the Tigers for the Phillies via free agency in 1987 and struggled in Philadelphia before playing for the Angels which resurrected his career for a short time. He would play for a new organization each year for the last four years of his career and retired in 1994 after trying to make a comeback with Detroit. He had various jobs as a coach in many different minor league systems and is now living a quiet life in retirement.
45. Kirk Gibson
1979-1987, 1993-1995, Right Field
Career with Detroit: .273 BA, 195 HR, 668 RBI, 1140 H, 698 R, 499 BB, .354 OBP, .480 SLG
1985: .287 BA, 29 HR, 97 RBI, 167 H, 96 R, 71 BB, .364 OBP, .518 SLG
- World Series champion (1984)
- ALCS MVP (1984)
Kirk Gibson is among the most remembered and most liked members of the 1984 team. His hustle and eye for the game was incredible and he thrived playing under manager Sparky Anderson. Drafted out of Michigan State, he made his major league debut in 1979 and was a staple in right field for years to come. He had a knack for coming through in clutch situations and his talents were on full display in the 1984 playoffs. He won the ALCS MVP in a short series against the Kansas City Royals and blasted a home run off of Goose Gossage in the World Series, after he convinced his manager to let him face Gibson instead of walking him. It was icing on the cake as the home run effectively sealed the Series. After leaving via free agency ’88, he returned in 1993 and played two more years, retiring at age 38. He joined Alan Trammell as a bench coach for the Tigers when Trammell was named the manager in 2003. With the hiring of Jim Leyland in 2006, Gibson left Detroit and joined the Arizona Diamondbacks, eventually being named manager in 2010. He was named NL Manager of the Year in 2011.
44. Willie Horton
1963-1977, Left Field
Career with Detroit: .276 AVG, 262 HR, 886 RBI, 671 R, 14 SB, 1490 H, 469 BB, .337 OBP, .472 SLG
1976: .316 BA, 17 HR, 53 RBI, 130 H, 42 R, 23 BB, .362 OBP, .501 SLG
- World Series champion (1968)
- 4x All-Star (’65, ’68, ’70, ’73)
- #23 retired
Horton, a hometown kid, made the most of his 14 years on the Tigers. Breaking through in ’63, he cemented his position in left field and anchored the lineup in the cleanup position. The Tigers came up short in 1967, losing the pennant to the Boston Red Sox but the city was ravaged during the summer by intense race riots. Horton, still in his baseball uniform, tried to calm crowds to no avail but his commitment and devotion to the city was evident. Horton played for the Tigers through the 60s and was traded in 1977 to the Texas Rangers. He retired after the 1980 season and has been active in the organization, as a special assitantever since. His number 23 was retired and a statue was erected at Comerica Park in his honor.
43. Norm Cash
1960-1974, First Base
Career with Detroit: .273 AVG, 366 HR, 1075 RBI, 1011 R, 41 SB, 1759 H, 1006 BB, .356 OBP, .493 SLG
1961: .361 BA, 41 HR, 132 RBI, 193 H, 119 R, 124 BB, .487 OBP, .662 SLG
- 5x All-Star (’61 twice, ’66, ’71, ’72)
- World Series champion (1968)
- AL Batting Champion (1961)
- 2x AL Comeback Player of the Year (’65, ’71)
Stormin’ Norm Cash was considered among the best teammates to have. Cash started his career in the White Sox organization but was traded to Cleveland and flipped to Detroit before the 1960 season. Both Chicago and Cleveland would regret those decisions as Cash proved his worth with a batting title in 1961 and a World Series championship in 1968. His fun-loving, humorous personality meshed perfectly on the Tigers’ teams of the 60s. A notable example was on July 15, 1973 during Nolan Ryan’s second career no-hitter, when he came to the plate with a table leg, instead of a bat. When told he couldn’t bat with the table leg, Cash replied “Why not? I won’t hit him anyway.” Cash retired after the 1974 season and did Tiger baseball broadcasts in the early 80s. However, Cash drowned in a tragic accident off of Beaver Island in northen Lake Michigan in 1986. Cash was 51.
42. Schoolboy Rowe
1933-1942, Starting Pitcher
Career with Detroit: 105-62, 4.01 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 662 SO, 92 CG, 16 SHO, 1445 IP, 8 SV
1934: 24-8, 3.45 ERA, 149 K, 20 CG, 3 SHO, 266 IP
- 2x All-Star (’35, ’36)
- World Series champion (1935)
One of the most creatively named players in Tiger history, Lynwood Rowe was a large part of the two AL pennants and World Series championship enjoyed during the mid 30s. Rowe had his best season in 1934 but was met with tough competition from the Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang in the World Series. He pitched a twelve inning complete game allowing only 2 runs and retiring 22 consecutive batters. However, Paul “Daffy” Dean would get the best of him in Game 6 and the Tigers would lose the Series. Schoolboy and the Tigers would triumph over the Cubs, the following year in 1935. Rowe pitched for Detroit until his skill dropped off in the 1940 World Series. He was traded to Brooklyn early in the 1942 season and left baseball for two years to fight in World War II. He was out of baseball by 1949. Rowe died of a heart attack at age 50 in 1961 in El Dorado, Arkansas.
41. Rocky Colvavito
1960-1963, Left Field
Career with Detroit: .271, 139 HR, 430 RBI, 377 R, 6 SB, 633 H, 346 BB, .364 OBP, .501 SLG
1961: .290 BA, 45 HR, 140 RBI, 168 H, 129 R, 113 BB, .402 OBP, .580 SLG
- 4x All-Star (’61 twice, ’62 twice)
Colavito was traded to Detroit from Cleveland for slugger Harvey Kuenn in 1961. Cleveland originally thought to get the better end of the deal as Kuenn was the more consistent player but the Tigers got the last laugh. Kuenn was injured for most of his short time with the Indians and was gone after a season. On the other hand, Colavito was productive as a Tiger. He had serious power numbers in 1961 (45 HR, 140 RBI, and 129 R) and was a 4x All-Star as a Tiger. However, he often clashed with the Detroit sportswriters and was traded after the 1963 season. He bounced around eventually going back to Cleveland before finishing his career with the Yankees in 1968. He is appreciated more in Cleveland but his career totals with the Tigers are hard to ignore.
Next week, we will delve further into the countdown, covering 40-31. Where will current stars Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander land? Where will legends like Al Kaline and Ty Cobb be? Stay tuned to find out!