The Top 50 Greatest Detroit Tigers of All-Time: 40-31

I was encouraged by the positive reception the article from last week received. Thank you all for taking the time to read. As for this week, we get closer in our journey to number one.

40. Hoot Evers

Hoot Evers

1941, 1946-1952, 1954, Center/Left Field

Career with Detroit: .290 AVG, 63 HR, 429 RBI, 410 R, 35 SB, 787 H, 222 BB, 311 BB, .366 OBP, .436 SLG

1950: .323 BA, 21 HR, 103 RBI, 100 R, 170 H, 71 BB, .408 OBP, .551 SLG

  • 2x All-Star (’48, ’50)

Hoot Evers had a short career that could have been a great one had it not been for the global conflict known as World War II. Evers was signed as an amateur free agent in 1941 at 20 years old and played for a short time before reporting for the armed services in 1942. He served his country until the end of the war and returned to baseball at age 26 in 1946. However, he put up impressive numbers for being out for five years and was a bright spot on the struggling Tigers in the early 50s. However, he was shipped out of town in a blockbuster trade after a drop in production. He returned briefly in 1954 but was a shadow of his former self. He was out of baseball by 1956. However, he spent his retirement in the Tiger organization as a scout and in player development. He was a main source of inspiration for manager Jim Leyland as Evers encouraged him to go into managing in the minors. Evers passed away at age 69 in 1991 from a heart attack in Houston, Texas.

39. Steve Kemp

Steve Kemp

1977-1981, Left Field

Career with Detroit: .284 AVG, 89 HR, 422 RBI, 378 R, 24 SB, 711 H, 375 BB, .376 OBP, .450

1979: .318 AVG, 26 HR, 105 RBI, 88 R, 5 SB, 156 H, 68 BB, .398 OBP, .543 SLG

  • All-Star (1979)

Steve Kemp was one of the few bright spots on an other wise underachieving decade for the Tigers. Kemp was drafted by the Tigers in 1976 and only spent one year in the minor leagues before making his Major League debut in 1977 as the Detroit’s everyday leftfielder. Despite being on a struggling team, Kemp was very consistent and had a great season in 1979, eventually placing 17th in the AL MVP voting. However, he was eventually shipped to Chicago for Chet Lemon in an unexpected trade. He bounced around with a few teams and ultimately, retired in 1988 due to injuries. Kemp recently stated that he originally harbored ill feelings toward the Tigers for trading him. However, his retirement has been quiet otherwise.

38. Carlos Guillen

Carlos Guillen

2004-2011, Second Base/Shortstop

Career with Detroit: .297 AVG, 95 HR, 449 RBI, 469 R, 59 SB, 892 H, 327 BB, .366 OBP, .476 SLG

2006: .320 BA, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 174 H, 100 R, 71 BB, .400 OBP, .519 SLG

  • 3x All-Star (’04, ’07, ’08)
  • Hit for the cycle (2006)
  • 1st in MLB history to raise BA in 6 consecutive seasons (’01-’06)

Guillen, my father’s favorite Tiger for the past few years before Victor Martinez showed up, was an incredibly versatile player. Carlos started 2004 as a shortstop but would play a considerable amount of games at first base, second base, third base, left field, and at designated hitter as well. If it weren’t for massive injuries suffered throughout his career, he could have been an even better player. His stat line in 2006 was a huge reason why Detroit made it to the World Series. However, as the years went by, his health deteriorated. He was limited to 177 games during the final three years of his career. However, many Tiger fans will remember his hustle, versatility, steady hitting, and this. Guillen retired after the 2011 season at age 36 and is enjoying retirement with his family.

37. Willie Hernandez

Willie Hernandez

1984-1989, Closer

Career with Detroit: 36-31, 2.98 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 384 K, 483.2 IP, 120 SV

1984: 9-3, 1.92 ERA, 112 K, 32 SV, 140.1 IP

  • 3x All-Star (’84-’86)
  • World Series champion (1984)
  • AL MVP (1984)
  • AL Cy Young (1984)

Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez was one of the most integral members of the 1984 World Series Champion Tigers. Hernandez was acquired from the Phillies prior to the 1984 season and had an immediate impact, with an ERA less than 2.00 and 32 saves. He pitched well enough to help the Tigers get to the World Series and only gave one run in 5 innings pitched with two saves in the Tigers’ five game triumph. Despite never reaching the dominance he had in ’84, he remained a steady, consistent closer for the rest of the 1980s. He was released in August of 1989 and tried to make a comeback as late as 1995 but never got another shot in the Big Leagues again. He’s spent his time since then in quiet retirement.

36. Ron LeFlore

Ron LeFlore

1974-1979, Center Field

Career with Detroit: .297 AVG, 51 HR, 265 RBI, 532 R, 294 SB, 970 H, 251 BB, .348 OBP, .406 SLG

1977: .325 BA, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 212 H, 100 R, 37 BB, .363 OBP, .475 SLG

  • All-Star (1976)

Ron LeFlore’s story and career is the stuff of Hollywood. Originally born in Detroit, he was involved in criminal activity as a teenager and was sent to Jackson State Penitentiary at 15. While in prison, he joined the inmate league and was an outstanding player. He played so well that a fellow inmate convinced Tiger manager Billy Martin to give him a tryout. On a one-day parole, LeFlore impressed enough to sign a contract. He reported to minor league camp in 1973 and made the team out of Spring Training in 1974. LeFlore’s skills were refined as a Major Leaguer as he made the AL All-Star team in 1976 and dazzled fans with his blazing speed. He was dealt to the Montreal Expos after the 1979 season and retired in 1983. He attempted to become a MLB umpire but didn’t make it out of the academy. After the ceremonies at the final game at Tiger Stadium in 1999, LeFlore was arrested for violating a court order regarding unpaid child support. He’s been plagued with legal problems since then.

35. Virgil Trucks

Virgil Trucks

1941-1952, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 108-91, 3.24, 1.21 WHIP, 1046 K, 84 CG, 20 SHO, 1801.2 IP, 12 SV

1949: 19-11, 2.81 ERA, 153 K, 17 CG, 6 SHO, 275 IP

  • All-Star (1949)
  • World Series champion (1945)
  • 2 No-hitters (both in ’52)

Virgil Trucks experienced the best of days and the worst of days. Trucks broke into the Major Leagues at age 24 with the Tigers and was immediately thrown into competitiveness of the American League. Trucks was a part of the 1945 World Series champion team and stymied the Cubs in a masterful 7 hit, 1 run complete game performance. However, Trucks would see the worst of the Tigers in the early 50s. He would throw two no-hitters in the same season (1952) but would still lose 19 games. That would be his final season in Detroit as he was traded to the St. Louis Browns. Trucks would retire after the 1958 season and would coach for the Pirates, Braves, and Tigers before retiring from coaching in 1974. He is currently living in Birmingham, Alabama and is the oldest living former Tiger. He will turn 96 years old on April 26.

34. Ivan Rodriguez

Ivan Rodriguez

2004-2008, Catcher

Career with Detroit: .298 AVG, 62 HR, 300 RBI, 300 R, 30 SB, 709 H, 106 BB, .328 OBP, .449 SLG

2004: .334 BA, 19 HR, 86 RBI, 176 H, 72 R, 41 BB, .383 OBP, .510 SLG

  • 4x All-Star (’04-’07)
  • 3x Gold Glove winner (’04, ’06, ’07)
  • Silver Slugger (2004)

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez originally came to Detroit as one of the biggest free agent signings in Tiger history. It was actually quite remarkable that Rodriguez would even consider signing with the Tigers after winning a World Series with the Marlins in 2003 and the Tigers being nearly historically bad as well. Despite this, it was Rodriguez, along with Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez that brought a winning mindset back to Detroit. Rodriguez was the perfect person to have behind the plate to mentor young pitchers in Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, and Joel Zumaya. Rodriguez was no slouch with the bat either as he batted nearly .300 as a Tiger. However, he was traded away to the New York Yankees for reliever Kyle Farnsworth in an attempt to save the team some cash for the offseason. Rodriguez played until 2011 for a variety of teams (New York, Houston, Texas, Washington) but was never the player he was in Detroit or even before. He’ll definitely be a  Hall of Famer but it’s doubtful he’ll go in as a Tiger.

33. Dizzy Trout

Dizzy Trout

1939-1952, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 161-153, 3.20 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 1199 K, 156 CG, 28 SHO, 2591.2 IP, 34 SV

1944: 27-14, 2.12 ERA, 144 K, 33 CG, 7 SHO, 352.1 IP

  • 2x All-Star (’44, ’47)
  • World Series champion (1945)

Trout was yet another integral part of the Tigers’ success in the 40s. Teamed  with Virgil Trucks, Hal Newhouser, and Schoolboy Rowe, the rotation for Detroit throughout the 40s was among the best. Trout struggled in the early years of his career, never accumulating a winning record until 1943. In Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, Trout kept the Cubs at bay with a 5 hitter, in a 4-1 victory. However, that would be the extent of his success. He was traded in 1952 to the Boston Red Sox but only started 17 games for them before retiring. He called Tiger baseball games on Detroit radio and was involved in the White Sox organization before his death from stomach cancer at age 56.

32. Jim Bunning

Jim Bunning

1955-1963, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 118-87, 3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 1406 K, 78 CG, 16 SHO, 1867.1 IP, 12 SV

1957: 20-8, 2.69 ERA, 182 K, 14 CG, 1 SHO, 267.1 IP

  • 7x All-Star (’57, ’59-’63)
  • AL wins champion (1957)
  • 2x AL strikeout champion (’59, ’60)
  • No-hitter (1958)

Despite having a Hall of Fame career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Jim Bunning lands on our list because of the reputation he had built in Detroit previously. Bunning was among the best in the American League during the 50s and it was on full display in 1957, only his third season in the Majors. Bunning had an immaculate inning (3 strikeouts on 9 pitches) against Boston in 1959. However, despite all his personal achievements, the Tigers never were a winner. He was traded to the Phillies after the 1963 season and had the majority of his Hall of Fame success with Philadelphia. After retiring in 1969, he returned to his home state of Kentucky and became involved in politics. He eventually would win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1987 and the U.S. Senate in 1998. Bunning would not seek reelection in 2010, instead conceding the Senate seat to Rand Paul, the incumbent. He lives in Kentucky.

31. Magglio Ordonez

Magglio Ordonez

2005-2011, Right Field

Career with Detroit: .312, 107 HR, 533 RBI, 452 R, 12 SB, 989 H, 318 BB, .373 OBP, .475 SLG

2007: .363 BA, 28 HR, 138 RBI, 216 H, 117 R, 76 BB, .434 OBP, .595 SLG

  • 2x All-Star (’06, ’07)
  • Silver Slugger (2007)
  • AL Batting Champion (2007)

Ordonez was a divisional steal for the Tigers. After spending the first eight years of his career as a member of the Chicago White Sox, Ordonez signed with Detroit in the same rebuilding project that Carlos Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez had joined. Ordonez provided the middle-of-the-order thump to support Guillen and Rodriguez that the Tigers desperately needed. He is especially endeared to Tiger fans for his walk-off home run against the Athletics in Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS. (Dan Dickerson’s call here.) Like Guillen, Ordonez would be plagued with injuries and would retire in 2011. He’s revered in Detroit and is enjoying a low key retirement.

That’s it for this week’s countdown. Our schedule is as follows:

March 18: 30-21

March 25: 20-11

April 1 (Opening Day!): 10-1

I will try to keep to the schedule but it’s a one man crew on this project. Where will your favorite Tiger, past or present be on this countdown? Check back next week to find out!

 

(UPDATE: Virgil Trucks passed away on March 24, after I published him on our list at #35. He was the last remaining member of the 1945 World Series championship team and was the oldest living former Tiger. Rest in peace, Virgil.)

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About Joe Barroso

Joe Barroso is the creator and editor of the Sporting Mitten blog as well as a contributor for the Farm Club blog. He began to pursue a career in journalism in 2010 while in high school. He created, produced, and wrote for "Irish Pride Sports Show" a weekly, sports feature show for Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, MI. He grew up in southeastern Michigan playing a variety of sports but was drawn to the game of baseball. Even with his short-lived playing career in high school gone, he still decided to pursue a career reporting happenings in baseball. You can reach him at jayambassador@gmail.com.
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