This could be the most unknown group of Tigers on this list. Most of them are from yesteryear (1903 -1980) and many didn’t play for Detroit exceptionally long. But these next ten will illuminate what has been an otherwise, unknown section of the list.
30. John Hiller
1965-1980, Relief Pitcher
Career with Detroit: 87-76, 2.83 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 1036 SO, 13 SHO, 6 CG, 1242 IP, 125 SV
1973: 10-5, 1.44 ERA, 124 K, 38 SV, 125.1 IP
- All-Star (1974)
- World Series champion (1968)
- AL Comeback Player of the Year (1973)
John Hiller was the ultimate reliever to have in the Tiger bullpen throughout the 70s. Hiller could be the long man, make a spot start, face a lefty, set up for a closer, or close himself. Debuting in 1965, he didn’t have a very big role with the club until 1967. He posted good numbers in 1968 but struggled in the World Series against the Cardinals. However, the Tigers would overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the Series. He suffered a heart attack in 1971 and was out for ’71 and part of ’72 before making a return down the stretch and in the playoffs against Oakland. A strong season in 1973 earned him AL Comeback Player of the Year. He would continue to pitch into the 70s, ultimately retiring in 1980 with the club record for most appearances by a left-handed pitcher. He’s spent his retirement out of the spotlight, running an insurance business. He lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife, Lynette.
29. Gee Walker
1931-1937, Left/Center Field
Career with Detroit: .317 AVG, 61 HR, 468 RBI, 475 R, 132 SB, 966 H, 140 BB, .351 OBP, .469 SLG
1937: .335 BA, 18 HR, 113 RBI, 213 H, 105 R, 41 BB, .380 OBP, .499 SLG
- All-Star (1937)
- World Series champion (1935)
Gee Walker was among the most appreciated characters during the dominant Tiger teams of the 30s. Born in Mississippi, he eventually was nicknamed “The Madman from Mississippi” for his intense competitiveness and wisecracking antics. He debuted in 1931 with the Tigers and was instantly a crowd favorite. He batted .300 or better in five of his first seven seasons and was an excellent but overzealous basestealer. He hit for the cycle on Opening Day in 1937, the only player to do so. The Tigers traded Walker before the 1938 season and the city was outraged. Unfortunately for Walker, he was never really the player he was in Detroit and bounced around with four other teams before retiring in 1945. He was a coach for Cincinnati in 1946 but left baseball after one year of coaching. He passed away in 1981 at the age of 73.
28. Vic Wertz
1947-1952, Right Field
Career with Detroit: .286 AVG, 109 HR, 512 RBI, 443 R, 5 SB, 798 H, 395 BB, .377 OBP, .477 SLG
1950: .308 BA, 27 HR, 123 RBI, 172 H, 99 R, 91 BB, .408 OBP, .533 SLG
- 3x All-Star (’49, ’51, ’52)
Wertz is known by many as the man who’s flyball was chased down by Willie Mays in the ’54 World Series but before then he had a successful career with the Tigers. Vic debuted in 1947 and would hit for the cycle as a rookie. He would be among the better hitters for the Tigers in the late 40s and early 50s but was eventually traded to the Browns in an 8-player trade in 1952. He was nothing short of steady and his personality didn’t stand out much but he bridged the gap between the great Tiger teams of the 40s and the emergence of a new generation of Tiger teams, beginning with Al Kaline who would debut the following year. Wertz retired in 1963 and worked in Detroit for a beer distribution company. He died in 1983 as a result of complications of heart surgery. He was 58 years old.
27. Heinie Manush
1923-1927, Left Field
Career with Detroit: .297 AVG, 38 HR, 345 RBI, 385 R, 48 SB, 624 H, 149 BB, .292 OBP, .451 SLG
1926: .378 BA, 14 HR, 86 RBI, 188 H, 95 R, 31 BB, .421 OBP, .564 SLG
- All-Star (1934)
- AL Batting Champion (1926)
- Detroit Tiger Hall of Fame (1964)
Heinie Manush was among the best hitters for the Tigers during his short tenure with the club. Manush made his Major League debut in 1923 and shared the outfield with Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, and Bobby Veach. Manush had a superb 1926 season and finished second in both slugging percentage and on-base percentage, behind Babe Ruth. Manush’s tenure in Detroit was kept short, however, as he was traded after the 1927 season. Manush had a successful career after his stint in Detroit and compiled over 2500 hits. He retired in 1939 after a 17 year career. Heinie was a scout for the Braves after World War II and served as a coach for the Washington Senators in the mid 50s. Manush was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Detroit Tiger by the Veterans Committee in 1964 but passed away in 1971 at the age of 69 in Sarasota, Florida.
26. Pete Fox
1933-1940, Right Field
Career with Detroit: .302 AVG, 59 HR, 493 RBI, 620 R, 107 SB, 1182 H, 279 BB, .351 OBP, .438 SLG
1937: .331 BA, 12 HR, 82 RBI, 208 H, 116 R, 41 BB, .372 OBP, .476 SLG
- World Series champion (1935)
Pete Fox was an integral part of the success of the Tigers in the 30s. Fox began his career in 1933 and posted a .288 batting average as a rookie in centerfield. However, he would move over to right field in 1934 and would stay there for the rest of his career. He led the league in outfield double plays and assists in ’34 and was known for his rocket arm and deadly aim. After losing in the World Series in ’34, he would come back stronger than ever in ’35 and hit a career high 15 home runs. He would accumulate 10 RBI over both games of a double header and also had a 29 game hitting streak during June and July of ’35. He left the Tigers in a move to acquire cash and spent the rest of his career with the Boston Red Sox before retiring in 1945. He lived until 1966 when he passed away at age 57 from cancer in Detroit.
25. Goose Goslin
1934-1937, Left Field
Career with Detroit: .298 AVG, 50 HR, 369 RBI, 346 R, 24 SB, 582 H, 241 BB, .383 OBP, .462 SLG
1936: .315 BA, 24 HR, 125 RBI, 180 H, 122 R, 85 BB, .403 OBP, .526 SLG
- All-Star (1936)
- World Series champion (1935)
Goslin established himself in the Major Leagues, long before he came to Detroit but still has a prominent place in Tiger history. Goose came to Detroit in a trade with the Washington Senators in 1934. A part of the G-Men (Goslin, Greenberg, Gehringer), he would form a fearsome triumvirate with two other future Hall of Famers to take the American League by storm. Despite falling short in ’34, Goslin came back strong in 1935 and the Tigers were back in the World Series. Goslin actually delivered the championship to Detroit when he singled to drive in the game-winning and Series-winning run. He played for Detroit until 1938 when he finished his career with Washington. Goslin was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Senator in 1968. He spent his retirement in the boating business on Delaware Bay until his death in 1971. He was 70.
24. Ed Killian
1904-1910, Starting Pitcher
Career with Detroit: 100-74, 2.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 498 SO, 142 CG, 19 SHO, 1536.2 IP, 4 SV
1904: 25-13, 1.78 ERA, 96 K, 29 CG, 3 SHO, 314 IP
- 24th on all-time ERA list
- 1st on all-time fewest home runs allowed list
- AL leader in shutouts (1907)
- AL winning % leader (’05-’07)
Edwin Henry Killian, nicknamed Twilight Ed, was among the first dominant pitchers the Tigers had in franchise history. Killian was traded to the Tigers in 1903 from the Cleveland Naps and was an instant star. He was the victim of a poor offense and lost 20 games in his first season with Detroit, despite having a 2.44 ERA. Killian battled the great Cy Young in a memorable 14-inning showdown before the Red Sox scored the game’s only run. In 1907, he won both games of a double header against Connie Mack’s Athletics to clinch the American League pennant but was burnt out for the World Series as the Tigers fell to the Cubs in a sweep. He retired after the 1910 season and passed away in 1928 in Detroit at 51 years old.
23. Denny McLain
1963-1970, Starting Pitcher
Career with Detroit: 117-62, 3.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 1150 SO, 94 CG, 26 SHO, 1593 IP, 1 SV
1968: 31-6, 1.96 ERA, 280 K, 28 CG, 6 SHO, 336 IP
- 3x All-Star (’66, ’68, ’69)
- World Series champion (1968)
- AL MVP (1968)
- 2x AL Cy Young (’68, ’69)
Denny McLain was one of the best Rule 5 draft steals in MLB history. Originally drafted by the White Sox out of high school in 1962, Chicago left him unprotected in the minor leagues and the Tigers scooped him up. He made his debut in September 1963 at 19 and pitched well for a teenager. He was up and down between the Majors and minors for the next few years and was finally a staple in the rotation by 1967. He was called upon to pitch the final, tie-breaking game of ’67 season but was ineffective due to an injury to his foot. He returned in 1968 and had, what some consider to be, the greatest season by a pitcher in the modern era. No pitcher since then has come close to McLain’s 31 victories and contributed so largely to a team’s success. He was named the AL MVP and Cy Young award winner but struggled in the World Series. After the triumph in ’68, he had another Cy Young worthy season in ’69 but was out of town by the end of 1970. He was suspended earlier in the ’70 season for bookmaking and was shipped to Washington where his tired arm failed him. He was traded by three other teams and retired from a dead arm at 29. McLain has since gotten himself into legal trouble with racketeering, drug possession, and embezzlement. He’s been in and out of prison since the 1980s and currently resides in Pinckney, Michigan.
22. Bill Donovan
1903-1912, 1918, Starting Pitcher
Career with Detroit: 2.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 1079 SO, 213 CG, 29 SHO, 2138 IP, 3 SV
1907: 25-4, 2.19 ERA, 123 K, 27 CG, 3 SHO, 271 IP
- AL winning % leader (1907)
- AL leader in complete games (1903)
- 50th on all-time complete games list
“Wild Bill” Donovan was yet another dominant starter for the Tigers in the early years of the franchise. Donovan had pitched in the National League previously but joined the newly formed American League in 1903. He pitched in three consecutive World Series but didn’t have much success as the Tigers lost all three. Donovan continued to pitch well for the Tigers until an arm injury ruined his career in 1912. He caught on as a coach for the Tigers in 1918 and pitched the final game of the season, his final win. He was speculated to have some knowledge of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal but was never seriously implicated. He died tragically in a train wreck in 1923 while headed to the Winter Meetings. He was only 47 years old.
21. Barney McCosky
1939-1946, Center Field
Career with Detroit: .312 AVG, 19 HR, 231 RBi, 409 R, 52 SB, 744 H, 283 BB, .382 OBP, .434 SLG
1940: .340 BA, 4 HR, 57 RBI, 200 H, 123 R, 67 BB, .408 OBP, .491 SLG
- AL leader in triples (1939)
- 27th in MVP voting (1939)
- Traded to Philadelphia for George Kell in 1946
Barney McCosky was an immediate success for the Tigers as a rookie in 1939. His .311 batting average was only second to slugger Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer. He was no slouch defensively either. He was known for his strong arm and ability to chase down balls in the gap. McCosky set a franchise record for triples in a season during his career 1940 campaign with 19. However, the most intriguing part McCosky’s story is what could have been. McCosky enlisted in the U.S. Navy during his prime (age 26-28) and lost three years in what could have been an even more incredible career. His tenure in the Navy hurt his comeback and he was traded to Philadelphia for George Kell, due to lack of production. McCosky played until 1953 and retired to southeast Michigan. He ran a party store near Southfield until his death in 1996 at 79 years of age.
Remarkably, we are just over halfway done with our countdown! Our next ten (20-11) really separate the good from the great and the great from the legendary. There are only two weeks to Opening Day and I’ll post a double feature that day for the upcoming season. Go Tigers!