In the 120-year history of the Detroit Tigers in the major leagues, 104 of the 1,701 players were born in Michigan. So, what would an all-time Tigers team made up of players born in Michigan look like?
It was a strange task. Some positions, like outfield, were rich in talent, and others, like shortstop, had less competition. Everyone was judged only on what each player did with for the Tigers, and when it was finished, it looked like a competitive team that is a little short on the infield (except second base).
Here’s the team:
Catcher-Bill Freehan (Detroit): A no-brainer. Freehan played 15 seasons with the Tigers and had 200 career home runs – 100 at home and 100 on the road. He won five Gold Glove Awards and was an 11-time all-star and, of course, the catcher on the 1968 World Series team.
First base-Rick Leach (Ann Arbor): First base was a surprisingly thin position, although there were many players who could fit there even though they were primarily outfielders. In fact, the only Michigan-born players to start at first base for the Tigers on Opening Day were outfielders Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley. So, Leach gets the call. He played 159 of his 235 games for Detroit at first base but hit just .236 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs.
Second base-Charlie Gehringer (Fowlerville): No debate here. The player known as The Mechanical Man is in the Hall of Fame after a 19-year career. He won the American League MVP Award in 1937 and finished with 2,839 hits, a .320 batting average and an .884 OPS. Defensively, he led all American League second basemen in assists and fielding percentage seven times. Gehringer is a slam dunk and should be considered the best Michigan-born player for the Tigers.
Third base-Steve Boros (Flint): Another thin position, although Boros did start on the 1961 team that won 101 games, and he hit 16 home runs in 1962. Infield is the thinnest position for major-leaguers born in Michigan.
Shortstop-Neil Berry (Kalamazoo): Berry spent five seasons with the Tigers and started at shortstop on Opening Day twice (1948, 1952). He wasn’t much of a hitter – he hit .242 for the Tigers and did not have a home run in 971 at-bats). If Mayo Smith was putting this team together, he’d likely have Mickey Stanley at shortstop.
Left field-Charlie Maxwell (Lawton): In a five-year period from 1956-60, Maxwell hit 120 home runs for Detroit. He became known for hitting home runs in Sunday games, and he totaled 133 home runs, 455 RBIs and an OPS of .828.
Center field-Mickey Stanley (Grand Rapids): Stanley’s versatility and outstanding defense earns him the nod over Ron LeFlore. In his prime, Stanley was one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, and he won four Gold Glove Awards. He also hit .248 with 117 home runs and 500 RBIs for the Tigers, and, of course, he moved to shortstop in the 1968 World Series to make room in the outfield for Al Kaline.
Right field-Jim Northrup (Breckenridge): Northrup was a fixture in the Tigers’ outfield for 11 years in the 1960s and 1970s and is known for hitting two grand slams in the same game and belting the key hit of the 1968 World Series: a triple off Bob Gibson in Game 7 to break the game open.
Designated hitter field-Kirk Gibson (Pontiac): Gibson is perfect at the designated hitter. He wasn’t there for his defense. It was his bat, his base running and overall positive influence with a give-it-your-all attitude that made Gibson a force in the majors. He hit 195 home runs for the Tigers in 12 seasons and had an OPS of .834. He will always be remembered for his two home runs in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series against the San Diego Padres.
Starting pitcher-Hal Newhouser (Detroit): When your ace pitcher is a Hall of Famer, you’re in a good spot. While Newhouser sometimes gets overlooked because some of his best seasons were during the war years when the talent was thinner, he won back-to-back American League MVP Awards in 1945-46 and was a four-time 20-game winner. He also was the winning pitcher in two games for the Tigers in the 1945 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, and he finished with a record of 200-148 for Detroit.
Starting pitcher-Frank Tanana (Detroit): It was in the middle of his career when Tanana was acquired by the Tigers, but he delivered 96 wins in eight seasons and pitched a 1-0 shutout over the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East Division title in 1987.
Starting pitcher-Dave Rozema (Grand Rapids): He burst on the scene in 1977 – one season after Mark Fidrych’s sensational rookie season – and was 15-7 with a 3.09 ERA and 15 complete games. While he never was able to duplicate that season, he finished 57-46 with the Tigers with a 3.38 ERA and 10 saves. He made 16 starts for the 1984 Tigers and finished the season 7-6 with a 3.74 ERA.
Starting pitcher-Steve Gromek (Hamtramck): Gromek spent the last five years of a 17-year career in Detroit and had a team-high 18 wins in 1954. He finished 45-41 for Detroit with a 3.77 ERA, and he also was used out of the bullpen on occasion and picked up seven saves.
Starting pitcher-Phil Regan (Otsego): Regan spent the first six seasons of a 13-year career in the majors with the Tigers in the early 1960s. Over a three-year stretch from 1961-63, Regan was 36-25, and his ERA decreased each season from 5.25 to 4.04 and 3.86. He finished his time in Detroit 42-44 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.378 WHIP.
Relief pitcher-Fred Gladding (Flat Rock): He was known as The Bear, and in seven seasons with the Tigers he appeared in 217 games, and only one of those came as a starter. He was at his best in the early 1960s, before gaudy save totals became the norm, and in his seven years with Detroit, Gladding was 26-11 with a 2.70 ERA and a 1,231 WHIP in 337 innings.