Even in this day of home runs coming at a more frequent rate, when one comes at the right time, it can be shocking and electrifying to fans of the hitter’s team and a dagger to the heart for fans of the opposing team.
In their 119 seasons, the Detroit Tigers have hit 13,842 home runs. That’s the answer to a pretty good question, but the task here is even tougher: Which are the 10 most iconic home runs in the history of the Tigers?
The criteria here is simple yet open-ended. The home runs in the top 10 should be the most impactful and most remembered, although the most remembered isn’t as important because, well, who was around to see the home runs hit 100 years ago?
Anyway, disagreements are welcome, and any you think were omitted are welcome as well. There likely is one or two out there slipped past me, but here goes, in order from No. 10 to No. 1.
No. 10: Hoot Evers’ two-run, inside-the-park, walk-off home run to beat the New York Yankees on June 23, 1950, at Briggs Stadium, Detroit.
The first-place Tigers held a one-game lead over the second-place Yankees, who took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning before Detroit scored eight times. But going into the bottom of the ninth inning, New York led 9-8.
After George Kell was retired on a foul pop-up, Vic Wertz doubled to center field. Hoot Evers drilled a 1-and-1 pitch to left center field. Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio chased the ball as it caromed off the 415-mark. DiMaggio fielded the ball and threw the relay to Yankees second baseman Billy Martin, but the throw was a bit off-target. Tigers third-base coach Dick Bartell waved Evers home, and he scored standing up to secure the Tigers’ 10-9 victory.
It was the 11th home run hit in the game by the two teams, breaking the previous major-league record of 10 home runs in one game.
No. 9: Cecil Fielder’s 50th home run of the season on October 3, 1990, at Yankee Stadium, New York.
Only one player had reached 50 home runs in a season since Willie Mays did it in 1965, and that was George Foster of the Cincinnati Reds in 1977. With one game to go, Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder had 49, the baseball world was watching, and the setting was the cathedral of baseball, Yankee Stadium.
Left-hander Steve Adkins was making his fifth major-league start (and final major-league appearance, as it turned out) for the New York, and a young lefty was the perfect remedy for Fielder, who had failed to hit No. 50 in his previous five games and 20 at-bats.
Fielder walked on a 3-and-1 pitch in the first inning and lined out to left field in the second inning as the Tigers built a 4-0 lead. In the fourth inning, Fielder came to bat with two out and Tony Phillips on first base and hit No. 50 on a 2-and-1 pitch from Adkins deep into the left-field stands at Yankee Stadium.
Fielder wasn’t finished. After striking out in the sixth, he hit No. 51 off Alan Mills.
No. 8: Gates Brown’s walk-off home run in the 14th inning to trigger a doubleheader sweep of the Boston Red Sox on August 11, 1968, at Tiger Stadium, Detroit.
The 1968 season was a magical one for the Tigers, who were known for their ability to come from behind and wins games, and one of those signature wins came from fan favorite Gates Brown.
The Red Sox, the defending American League champions, scored four runs in the top of the first inning, and the Tigers chipped away with single runs in the third, sixth, seventh and eighth innings to tie it at 4-4. The Tigers had used five pitchers through nine innings and turned to starter Mickey Lolich to start the 10th inning.
The game stayed 4-4 through 13 innings, and the Tigers had two out with nobody on in the bottom of the 14th with Lolich due to bat. Tigers manager Mayo Smith sent Brown in to pinch-hit, and he ended it with a walk-off home run off Lee Stange.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Brown started in left field and hit clean-up. Boston took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Tigers staged another come-from-behind victory with a four-run rally for a 6-5 victory. Brown broke the tie with a one-out single to score Mickey Stanley from third base with the winning run.
No. 7: Larry Herndon’s second-inning home run to give Frank Tanana and the Tigers all the runs they needed to clinch tine American League East Division title on October 3, 1987, at Tiger Stadium, Detroit.
This one did not have the dramatics of the previous home runs, but it had a ton of importance.
With eight games left in the 1987 season, the Tigers were in second place and three and a half games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays. When Toronto arrived in Detroit for a season-ending three game series, it had a one-game lead. The Tigers needed to win all three to secure the division title or win two out of three to force a tie-breaker.
The Tigers won the first two games, setting the stage for a possible clincher. Frank Tanana was on the mound for Detroit, and tough lefty Jimmy Key was pitching for the Blue Jays. With one out in the bottom of the second, Herndon gave Detroit a 1-0 lead with a solo home run, and that is how the game ended. Tanana pitched a six-hit shutout with three walks and nine strikeouts. Key hurled a three-hitter with eight strikeouts and three walks.
Key might have been a bit better than Tanana that day. Except for one pitch.
No. 6: Robert Fick’s home run off the roof in center field in the final game at Tiger Stadium on September 27, 1999.
There were a lot of questions and emotions surrounding prior to the final game at Tiger Stadium. One of the questions was the speculation on who would hit the last home run in the old ballpark.
There were several candidates. Luis Polonia of the Tigers hit a home run in the first inning, and Mark Quinn of the Kansas City Royals hit one in the second inning. Karim Garcia of the Tigers followed with a home run in the bottom of the sixth, and it began to look like he would be the guy.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Robert Fick, a rookie whose only time in the big leagues was a callup in September of 1998 and a callup in September of 1999, came to the plate with the bases loaded. A left-handed hitter, Fick drilled the first pitch from reliever Jeff Montgomery off the roof in right field for a grand slam and the final home run at Tiger Stadium.
The ballpark erupted and flashbulbs were popping all around the stadium as Fick circled the bases. He might have been one of the most unlikely Tigers to do it, but Fick actually was the most fitting player to hit the final home run.
The Tigers players wore the numbers of former players for the final game at Tiger Stadium. Fick was chosen to wear the No. 25 that belonged to Norm Cash, the player with the most home runs over the roof in Tiger Stadium history. Fick might not have joined Cash in that exclusive club that day, but he came close enough.
No. 5: Dave Bergman’s walk-off home run in 13-pitch at-bat on June 4, 1984, at Tiger Stadium, Detroit.
Dave Bergman proved that one home run can make an ordinary baseball player become immortalized in team history.
The 1984 Tigers got off to a 35-5 start and never were seriously threatened, although the Toronto Blue Jays had an excellent season and always were just close enough to keep the fans from feeling too comfortable.
On a Monday night before a national television audience, the Tigers and Blue Jays opened a three-game series in Detroit. Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb had Detroit shut out into the seventh before Howard Johnson hit a three-run home run to tie it at 3-3. The game stayed that way through nine innings, and Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez teamed to shut out the Blue Jays in the top of the 10th inning.
With two on and two out in the bottom of the 10th, Bergman came to bat against Roy Lee Jackson.
What happened next became a moment in Tigers history. Bergman fouled off the first five pitches and nine of the first 12. The seventh pitch, low and away but just off the corner, was close enough that it could have been called a third strike, but home-plate umpire Terry Cooney ruled it a ball.
“I caught a break on a 2-2 pitch that was a borderline strike or a ball, and to this day a lot of people say, ‘That was too close to take,’ and I say, ‘You’re right,’ but I still think it was outside,” Bergman said years later on and Oakland Press youtube video.
Bergman and Blue Jays catcher Buck Martinez had been chatting during the at-bat, and the clock was approaching midnight when Bergman asked Martinez, “Is there a curfew?”
“He just kind of snickered,” Bergman said in the Detroit Free Press. “It was getting near midnight. Somebody had to get a hit.”
On the 13th pitch, a slider broke over the plate and down toward Bergman’s feet, maybe 6 inches off the ground. Bergman swung and lifted the ball high and far into the right-field upper deck for a three-run home run. It was Bergman’s first home run for the Tigers, and it was the biggest of his career.
Mention the name Dave Bergman to any fan of the Tigers. This is the story they will tell.
No. 4: Vic Wertz’s walk-off home run to secure a no-hitter for Virgil Trucks on May 15, 1952, Briggs Stadium, Detroit.
It was a Thursday afternoon at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. The Tigers were off to a 7-17 start, and only 2,215 fans were in the stadium, although it’s likely many more said they were there years later.
Tigers pitcher Virgil Trucks was in a pitchers’ duel with Bob Porterfield of the Washington Senators. Porterfield took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Tigers third baseman George Kell broke it up with a two-out single.
Trucks took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, and he breezed through three Washington batters. He retired Jim Busby on a fly to center and Jackie Jenson on a grounder to first and ended the inning by striking out Mickey Vernon.
Trucks had pitched nine innings without allowing a hit, but the score remained 0-0. Porterfield started the bottom of the ninth by getting Kell to ground out to short, and Pat Mullin followed with a fly to deep center.
With two out and nobody on, Wertz homered to give the Tigers a 1-0 victory and secure the no-hitter for Trucks. Three months later, Trucks threw a no-hitter against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium, and he remains the only Tigers pitcher to throw two no-hitters in one season.
No. 3: Hank Greenberg’s pennant-clinching grand slam in the ninth inning of the regular-season finale on September 30, 1945, at Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis.
It all seemed so simple for the Tigers on the final day of the 1945 regular season. Just win one game out of two in St. Louis, and the American League pennant would fly in Detroit. The weather in St. Louis had been terrible, and a game scheduled for Saturday was postponed, forcing the Sunday finale to become a Sunday doubleheader.
“The base lines were deep in mud and the footing was very slippery,” W.J. McGoogan wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “
Meanwhile, the second-place Washington Senators had finished their season one week earlier. They were 87-67; the Tigers were 86-64 at the same point with four games remaining and needed two wins to clinch the pennant. Detroit split a doubleheader with Cleveland in the middle of the week, leaving the Tigers one victory shy of the pennant as they left for St. Louis.
The Detroit Free Press reported that storms had drenched the field for 10 straight days, and the temperature was 57 degrees. Rain delayed the start of the game by 50 minutes. The Tigers started 28-yeaer-old right-hander Virgil Trucks on the mound, and St. Louis countered with 34-year-old right-hander Nels Potter.
The game swayed back and forth. The Browns took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and Detroit answered with single runs in the top of the fifth and sixth for a 2-1 lead. St. Louis then scored single runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth and took a 3-2 lead into the ninth.
Potter was still in the game for the Browns, and Hub Walker opened the ninth with a pinch-hit single. Skeeter Webb bunted in a sacrifice attempt, but Walker slogged through the mud and beat the throw to second. Red Borom ran for Walker, and Eddie Mayo sacrificed, moving Borom to third and Webb to second. With Doc Cramer up and first base open, he was intentionally walked to load the bases for Greenberg, whom the Browns hoped would ground into a game-ending double play.
Potter’s second pitch to Greenberg was a screwball, and Greenberg drilled it into the left field corner for a grand slam. But the work wasn’t done as the Browns were due up in the bottom of the ninth. Al Benton came on and pitched a scoreless ninth for his third save, and the Tigers had their first pennant since 1940. Hal Newhouser, who would win the American League MVP Award that season, was the winner in relief, moving his record to 25-9.
Greenberg described the grand slam in his autobiography, “Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life.’
“I took the first pitch form Nelson Potter for a ball. As he wound up on the next pitch, I could read his grip on the ball and I could tell he was going to throw a screwball. I swung and hit a line drive toward the corner of the left-field bleachers. I stood at the plate and watched the ball for fear the umpire would call it foul. It landed a few feet inside the foul pole for a grand slam. We won the game, and the pennant, and all the players charged the field when I reached home plate and they pounded me on the back and carried on like I was a hero. There was almost nobody in the stands to pay attention, and there were few newspapermen. Just the ballplayers giving me a hero’s welcome.:
With the pennant clinched and the weather poor, the second game of the doubleheader was cancelled, leaving the Tigers a game and a half ahead of Washington in the American League standings.
No. 2: Magglio Ordonez’s walk-off, pennant-clinching home run in Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS on October 14, 2006, Comerica Park, Detroit.
It wasn’t a do-or-die situation.
It didn’t need to be.
The Tigers had won the first three games of the 2006 ALCS against the Oakland Athletics. They needed to win just one of the remaining four games for a spot in the World Series for the first time in 22 years. Nobody wanted to wait any longer.
Oakland had grabbed a 3-0 lead in Game 4, but the Tigers got close in the bottom of the fifth on back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe.
With Oakland leading 3-2, Ordonez led off the bottom of the sixth with a line-drive home run off Athletics starter Dan Haren to make it 3-3. It stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth.
Athletics closer Huston Street had retired four consecutive batters entering the bottom of the ninth. He retired the first two batters, and extra innings seemed likely. Then, Monroe singled, and Placido Polanco singled to put runners on first and second with two out.
A base hit might end it, but Ordonez did better. He smashed a 1-0 fastball in and just above the knees from Street deep into the stands in left field. Tigers fans jumped and yelled in celebration. Polanco, wearing a face-covering ski mask to help stay warm on the cold night, looked like he was on a pogo stick as he kept jumping up and down as he rounded the bases.
Street, whose father James was the quarterback at the University of Texas when it won the national championship in 1969, was able to find a sense of humor about it.
“I thought about tackling Ordonez, and then I saw that the lead runner had already crossed the plate, so it wouldn’t have mattered,” Street said in the Toledo Blade.
Ordonez, who hit fourth in the order most of the time in his first five seasons with the Tigers, was back in Detroit in 2016 for the 10-year celebration of the pennant-winning team. Obviously, the dramatic walk-off home run was a topic.
“People were going crazy,” Ordonez said in the Detroit Free Press. “You don’t think. You just enjoy it. Something you can’t describe. Just want to cross home plate and then celebrate. Polanco was jumping around.”
The date was October 14, 2006. On the same date in 1984, Kirk Gibson’s three-run home run to right field as the Tigers won the World Series with an 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres in Game 5 at Tiger Stadium
No. 1: Kirk Gibson’s second home run in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series on October 14, 1984 at Tiger Stadium, Detroit.
It didn’t end the World Series officially, but when Kirk Gibson belted his three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, the San Diego Padres were a beaten team.
The Tigers led wire-to-wire in 1984, starting out with a 35-5 record and finishing with 104 wins and a 15-game lead over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays. Then they swept the Kansas City Royals in three games in the ALCS, and the first two were played in Kansas City.
Detroit opened the World Series on the road, too, and split the first two games. They returned to Tiger Stadium to open what had turned out to be a best-of-five the rest of the way. Detroit won Game 3 behind the pitching of Milt Wilcox, and in Game 4 Alan Trammell hit two home runs and Lance Parrish hit another to give the Tigers a 3-1 edge in the World Series.
On a late Sunday afternoon, the Tigers gave Dan Petry a 3-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to a two-run home run by Gibson. But the Padres weren’t through, and they battled back to tie it at 3-3. The Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the fifth when Gibson scored from third on a sacrifice fly to short right field; a ball that should have been caught by right fielder Tony Gwynn, who lost it in the lights. Second baseman Alan Wiggins caught it, but his momentum was taking him away from the plate, and Gibson’s speed allowed him to score the go-ahead run.
Detroit added a run in the bottom of the seventh to make it 5-3, but San Diego got one back in the top of the eighth to cut the Tigers’ lead to one run. This were still tense in Tiger Stadium when Gibson came to bat with runners on second and third and one out.
The pitcher was Rich Gossage, who struck out Gibson years earlier and believed he could do it again. Padres manager Dick Williams wanted to walk Gibson, but Gossage pleaded his case, and Williams let him pitch to the left-handed slugger from Michigan State University.
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson smirked at what was happening on the mound, and Gibson flashed five fingers to his manager, requesting a bet that he would hit one out. Sparky, still smirking, agreed.
Gibson crushed Gossage’s second pitch into the upper deck in left field to score Marty Castillo and Lou Whitaker ahead of him and give the Tigers an 8-4 lead, and that’s how it ended.
The numerology in the final score was perfect. The Tigers won the 1984 World Series by the score of 8-4, and in the post-season, they were 7-1 for an .875 winning percentage – the same winning percentage they had with their 35-5 start.
Even stranger the home run isn’t even considered Gibson’s most iconic home run. That came in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series when he limped to the plate to hit a game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But in Tigers lore, Gibson’s home run in 1984 was the most iconic home run in franchise history.
Nice shots, Chip!