The Top 50 Greatest Detroit Tigers of All-Time: 20-11

We get ever closer in our pursuit of number one! Let’s begin with number 20!

20. Harvey Kuenn

 Harvey Kuenn

1952-1959, Shortstop/Outfield

Career with Detroit: .314 AVG, 53 HR, 423 RBI, 620 R, 51 SB, 1372 H, 322 BB, .360 OBP, .426 SLG

1959: .353 BA, 9 HR, 71 RBI, 198 H, 99 R, 48 BB, .402 OBP, .501 SLG

  • 8x All-Star (’53-’58, ’59 twice)
  • AL Rookie of the Year (1953)
  • AL Batting Champion (1959)

Harvey Kuenn debuted for the Detroit Tigers in 1952 and was immediately installed as the team’s starting shortstop at age 22 late in the season. His first full season as a Tiger set the pace for the rest of his tenure in Detroit, as he hit for excellent average (.308), accumulated 209 hits, and set a rookie record for singles in a season (167). He was also named an All-Star in ’53 and was an All-Star for the rest of his years in Detroit. Kuenn was named American League Rookie of the Year in ’53 and formed a powerful duo with Al Kaline in 1955. However, in an attempt to shake up the team and inject new life into the franchise, General Manager Bill DeWitt sent Kuenn to Cleveland for slugging outfielder Rocky Colavito. Kuenn fizzled as an Indian and recovered as a veteran in the National League, ultimately retiring in 1966. He managed the Brewers from 1982 to ’83 and lost the ’82 World Series in the franchise’s only World Series appearance. Kuenn passed away in 1988 at his home in Peoria, Arizona. He was 57.

19. Bill Freehan

 Bill Freehan

1961-1976, Catcher

Career with Detroit: .262 AVG, 195 HR, 731 RBI, 684 R, 24 SB, 1527 H, 614 BB, .341 OBP, .418 SLG

1964: .300 BA, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 156 H, 69 R, 36 BB, .350 OBP, .462 SLG

  • 11x All-Star (’64-’75)
  • World Series champion (1968)
  • 5x Gold Glove winner (’65-’68)

Bill Freehan is considered by some to be part of the great catching tradition that exists in the Detroit Tigers organization. Born in Detroit, Freehan was a hometown boy who had achieved notoriety as a college slugger in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. He made the team in 1963 and shared duties with the incumbent catcher, Gus Triandos, who was traded before ’64. He batted .300 in 1964 and earned the first of his ten consecutive All-Star appearances. The following year, he earned his first Gold Glove award. Freehan was considered the premier catcher in the American League and proved the speculations true when he was the quiet, steady leader of the 1968 World Series championship team. In the fifth inning of Game 5, he was involved in a controversial play with Cardinals outfielder Lou Brock in which he blocked the plate and prevented him from scoring. The Tigers would prevail in a seven-game classic. Freehan played his entire career in Detroit, retiring in 1976. He coached Lance Parrish during his tenure with the team in the 1980s and eventually coached at the University of Michigan from 1989 to 1995. He’s since spent his retirement in quiet enjoyment.

18. Jack Morris

Jack Morris

1977-1990, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 198-150, 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 1980 SO, 154 CG, 24 SHO, 3039.2 IP

1986: 21-8, 3.27 ERA, 223 SO, 15 CG, 6 SHO, 267 IP

  • 4x All-Star (’81, ’84, ’85, ’87)
  • World Series champion (1984)
  • No-hitter (1984)
  • AL Wins leader (1981)
  • AL Strikeout Champion (1983)
  • AL Shutouts Champion (1986)
  • Opening Day starter from ’80-‘90
  • All-time Tigers wild pitches leader
  • All-time Tigers balks leader
  • All-time Tigers leader in leading the team in wins (’79-’88, ’90)

Jack Morris is among the best starting pitchers the Tigers have had in recent memory. Debuting in 1977 after Mark Fidrych succumbed to injury, he took hold in the rotation in 1979 and didn’t look back. Along with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish, and manager Sparky Anderson, the Tigers were slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Already well established as the ace of the Tigers and among the best pitchers in the AL, Morris threw a no-hitter on April 7, 1984. This was among the highlights of the ’84 season as Morris and Detroit celebrated a World Series title. Morris had an incredible season in 1986 but was overshadowed by the performance of the young Roger Clemens. He was a classic big game pitcher with a 7-1 record in nine postseason starts. He would leave the Tigers for the Minnesota Twins in 1991 and won two more championships before retiring in 1994. His candidacy for the Hall of Fame is still disputed as he was shutout of Cooperstown this past January in his 14th season of eligibility.

17. Miguel Cabrera

 Miguel Cabrera

2008-present, Third/First Base

Career with Detroit: .323 AVG, 183 HR, 600 RBI, 512 R, 16 SB, 960 H, 387 BB, .401 OBP, .579 SLG

2012: .330 AVG, 44 HR, 139 RBI, 205 H, 109 R, 66 BB, .393 OBP, .606 SLG

  • AL Triple Crown (2012)
  • AL MVP (2012)
  • 2x AL HR Champion (’08, ’12)
  • 2x AL RBI Champion (’10, ’12)
  • 2x AL Batting Champion (’11, ’12)
  • 3x All-Star (’10-’12)
  • 2x Silver Slugger (’10, ’12)

Miguel Cabrera is among the most widely recognized and beloved Tigers on the current roster. Cabrera’s 2012 MVP season is considered among the best by any player in recent memory but Miggy’s been putting up similar numbers since he put on the Tiger uniform. Cabrera came to the Tigers before the 2008 season in a blockbuster trade for a large package of prospects. Since then, Miguel has dominated the American League and is among the most feared hitters in baseball. Defensively, he struggled at third base before transitioning to first base in 2010. However, he slimmed down and is back at third playing better defense than he has before. Cabrera is expected to be offered an extension to stay a Tiger for life and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame would be a strong one: he has 1,802 hits before age 30.

16. Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander

2005-present, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 124-65, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 1454 SO, 20 CG, 6 SHO, 1553.2 IP

2011: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 SO, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 250 IP

  • 5x All-Star (’07, ’09-’12)
  • AL Rookie of the Year (2006)
  • AL MVP (2011)
  • AL Cy Young (2011)
  • Pitching Triple Crown (2011)
  • AL Strikeout Champion (’09, ’11, ’12)
  • 2 No-Hitters (’07, ’11)

Justin Verlander, much like Miguel Cabrera, is among the most dominant at his position. Verlander, originally drafted out of Old Dominion in ’04, starred as a rookie in 2006 and excelled winning the AL Rookie of the Year and starting Game 1 of the 2006 World Series. He’s averaged 18 wins per season and since 2010 has been considered by many as “the best pitcher on the planet.” He’s thrown two no-hitters in his career: 2007 against Milwaukee, 2011 against Toronto. Verlander’s 2011 season was one for the ages as he won 24 games, struckout 250, and had a 2.40 ERA. He was named Cy Young and MVP in ’11 and was the Cy Young runner up in 2012. No pitcher in Major League history is as decorated as Verlander: he has ever been named the Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young award winner, an MVP, and been named to an All-Star team. His personal life has since been in the headlines since 2011 and the media has continually linked him to supermodel Kate Upton. Verlander is expected to be offered an extension to stay a Tiger but his talent alone could warrant a $200 million dollar plus contract.

15. Lou Whitaker

 Lou Whitaker

1977-1995, Second Base

Career with Detroit: .276 AVG, 244 HR, 1084 RBI, 2369 H, 1386 R, 1197 BB, .363 OBP, .426 SLG

1983: .320 AVG, 12 HR, 72 RBI, 206 H, 94 R, 67 BB, .380 OBP, .457 SLG

  • 5x All-Star (’83-’87)
  • World Series champion (1984)
  • 3x Gold Glove winner (’83-’85)
  • 4x Silver Slugger (’83-’85, ’87)
  • AL Rookie of the Year (1978)

Sweet Lou was one half of MLB’s longest double play combination. Whitaker was originally paired with Alan Trammell in Double-A Montgomery and they both were starters in the infield by the beginning of 1978. Whitaker won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1978 and had his best season in 1983. He was a part of an infield that hit 20 home runs each in 1986 and his above-average defense set the bar high for second basement to come. Whitaker was also one of the very few players to hit a ball of the roof of Tiger Stadium. There were some strange stories surrounding him during his career. He never stood, removed his hat, or acknowledged the American flag during the National Anthem. His uniform was forgotten while on his trip to the 1985 All-Star Game in Minneapolis. He had to purchase a novelty blank Tiger jersey at a department store and an adjustable mesh hat to play in for the All-Star Game. Despite these mishaps, Whitaker is among the most underrated players in baseball history. He failed to get 5% of the vote for the Hall of Fame and has been off the ballot since. He’ll be eligible for the Hall in 2015 despite having favorably comparable numbers to Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin.

14. Mickey Cochrane

 Mickey Cochrane

1934-1937, Catcher

Career with Detroit: .313 AVG, 11 HR, 152 RBI, 218 R, 14 SB, 335 H, 245 BB, .444 OBP, .430 SLG

1934: .320 AVG, 2 HR, 76 RBI, 140 H, 74 R, 78 BB, .428 OBP, .412 SLG

  • 2x All-Star (’34, ’35)
  • World Series champion (1935)
  • AL MVP (1934)
  • Detroit Tiger Hall of Famer (1947)

Cochrane’s tenure with the Tigers was short but ultimately considered legendary. So much so, that he’s in the Hall of Fame as a Tiger. Cochrane was already considered the best catcher in the Major Leagues by 1926 and by 1934 he was sold to the Tigers in a firesale from the Philadelphia A’s. He was immediately made player-manager and was part of an incredible lineup that already included Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, and Goose Goslin. Runners up in ’34, he regrouped the team and made a run of it in ’35 where the Tigers were triumphant over the Cubs in the World Series. Cochrane was forced to stop playing when he was hit in the head with a pitch in 1937. He was in the hospital for a week and the incident was a major reason for the institution of helmets for batters. Cochrane managed the Tigers into the ’38 season but was replaced before September. He served in WWII despite his head injury and spent the rest of his retirement, with a low profile. He died in 1962 from lymphatic cancer due to his smoking habits.

13. Tommy Bridges

 Tommy Bridges

1930-1946, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 194-138, 3.57 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 1674 SO, 200 CG, 33 SHO, 2826.1 IP, 10 SV

1936: 23-11, 3.60 ERA, 175 SO, 26 CG, 5 SHO, 294.2 IP

  • 6x All-Star (’34-’40)
  • 2x World Series champion (’35, ’45)

Thomas “Tommy” Bridges was one of the best curveball pitchers in the Live Ball Era. Bridges joined the Tigers in 1930 and got Babe Ruth to groundout in his first Major League pitch. He came close to a perfect game in August of 1932 but gave up a hit on the last out. However, he wouldn’t really reach his potential until the 1934 season which brought success to the team as a whole. He went 22-11 in 1934 to help the Tigers win the AL Pennant. He defeated Dizzy Dean in a pitching duel in the World Series but the Cardinals ultimate got the best of the Tigers, winning in seven games. In 1935, Bridges had another very strong season, going 21-10 and pitching a complete game victory in the Series-clinching game. In 1936, he would lead the AL in wins (23) and eventually gave up Babe Ruth’s 700th home run. Bridges missed all of ’44 due to military service and came back to pitch in ’45. He and Hank Greenberg are the only two Tigers to play in four World Series. Bridges finished his career in 1946 but his retirement was marred by his alcoholism. He died in Nashville, Tennessee in 1968 at age 61.

12. George Mullin

  George Mullin

1902-1913, Starting Pitcher

Career with Detroit: 209-179, 2.76 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 1380 SO, 336 CG, 34 SHO, 3394 IP, 6 SV

1909: 29-8, 2.22 ERA, 124 SO, 29 CG, 3 SHO, 303.2 IP

  • AL wins champion (1909)
  • AL winning % leader (1909)
  • 7th on all-time assists list (pitchers)
  • 25th on all-time complete games list
  • 65th on all-time wins list
  • All-time Tigers innings pitched leader
  • No-hitter (1912-franchise first)
  • Won 20 or more games in five seasons

Only the most hardcore of Tiger fans would recognize this man’s name. Mr. George Mullin was the francise’s first true “aces”. Mullin signed with the Tigers in 1902 and was immediately one of the stars on the newly formed franchise. He was known as a hard-throwing, workhorse, who sometimes struggle with his control earlier in his career. (Kinda reminds you of Justin Verlander, you know?) Mullin was even more of a workhorse than Verlander, however, as he leads the franchise in innings pitched, both for a career and in a single season. Mullin’s best season was in 1909 in which he threw a one-hitter on Opening Day and then won eleven consecutive games. He didn’t lose until June and led the AL in winning percentage. In 1912, he pitched the first game ever at Navin Field (later known as Tiger Stadium), earned his 200th career victory over Washington’s Walter Johnson, and threw the franchise’s first no-hitter. However, he struggled in 1913 and was sold, rather quickly, to the Washington Senators. He played semi-professional baseball until 1915 when he retired. Mullin passed away in 1944 at age 63 and was posthumously inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1962.

11. Bobby Veach

 Bobby Veach

1912-1923, Left Field

Career with Detroit: .331 AVG, 59 HR, 1042 RBI, 859 R, 189 SB, 1859 H, 512 BB, .370 OBP, .444 SLG

1921: .338 AVG, 16 HR, 128 RBI, 207 H, 110 R, 48 BB, .387 OBP, .529 SLG

  • 2x AL RBI Champion (’15, ’17, ’18)
  • Hit for the cycle (1920)

Bobby Veach was yet another forgotten Tiger from yesteryear. Debuting in 1912, he played in left field alongside three future Hall of Famers (Ty Cobb in center field, Sam Crawford and later, Harry Heilmann in right field). Veach was impressive as a hitter and he had more RBIs and extra base hits than anyone in baseball from 1915-1922. Veach was constantly in the top 5 in offensive categories, mostly trailing Cobb, Crawford, and Babe Ruth. Defensively, Veach had an incredibly arm in left field. His 206 career assists are in the top 10 for left fielders. Veach was sold to the Red Sox in 1924 for reasons still unknown. He played for a few more teams before retiring in 1925. Bobby passed away in 1945 in Detroit after battling a “long illness.” He was 57. He’s buried in Troy, MI.

We are ever so close to both number one on our list and Opening Day! I’ll release the final 10 on Opening Day, the morning before the game. Stay tuned and Go Tigers!

(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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