Ones that got away: Carl Hubbell, king of the screwball, anchors pitching staff of all-time “after-Detroit” team

The Detroit Tigers have had their good moments and bad moments in trades and free agency. They have added players like Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer, and they have traded away players like Justin Verlander and, well, Max Scherzer.

Here is a unique all-Tigers team, and it features a 26-man roster (2020 rules) as if a pennant were at stake. We are looking for the most deserving players and, at some point, versatility.

It is a collection of the players who did the best AFTER leaving Detroit. Nothing they did with the Tigers counts, only what they did in their post-Detroit career. So, Willie Horton and Rocky Colavito are out. And if they returned to the Tigers, those years don’t count; only what they did with other teams after they spent time in Detroit.

Also, a player does not necessarily have to have played for the Tigers, but he must have been a part of the organization at one point. With that said, we will start with the pitching staff, and the ace is one of those guys who never spent a day in the majors with the Tigers. But he was in the organization.

The rotation boasts three right-handers and two left-handers. Three are in the Hall of Fame. The other two will be in Cooperstown five years after they retire from the game.

STARTING PITCHERS (post-Detroit stats in parentheses)

Carl Hubbell, 253-154, 2.98 ERA, 33 saves, two-time NL MVP, Hall of Fame.

Hubbell, a lefty and the king of the screwball, spent his entire major-league career with the New York Giants of the National League. He was 22 when he signed with the Tigers after the 1925 season, but manager Ty Cobb hated the screwball. He felt it led to injuries and told Hubbell not to throw it. Hubbell lost his effectiveness in the minors, and the Tigers finally sold his contract without ever giving him a chance in the majors. He led the Giants to the 1933 World Series and won both of his starts.

Hubbell’s major-league career stretched from 1928-43. The Tigers won three American League pennants but just one World Series in that stretch. There might have been a few more championships with Hubbell leading the pitching staff.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947.

John Smoltz, 213-155, 3.33 ERA. 154 saves, 1996 NL Cy Young Award, Hall of Fame.

Like Hubbell, Smoltz never appeared in a major-league game for the Tigers, who dealt him to the Atlanta Braves in August of 1987 for Doyle Alexander, who helped Detroit win the American League East Division title. It might have been worth it had the Tigers won the World Series, but they lost to the Twins in the ALCS.

Smoltz, a right-hander and a Lansing native, was 15-4 in the postseason and helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series. He also converted to relief in 2001, and the next year he led the National League with 55 saves. He only made one major-league appearance in Detroit, and that came in 2004 when he struck out two of the three batters he faced and recorded a save in a 4-3 victory in 10 innings at Comerica Park.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Max Scherzer, 79-39, 2.74 ERA, 2016-17 NL Cy Young Award, five-time NL all-star

The hard-throwing right-hander was the No. 2 man in Detroit behind Justin Verlander, and he lands No. 3 on this list. The Tigers obtained him from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade in December of 2009, and he was 82-35 with the Tigers in five seasons and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013. He left Detroit via free agency after the 2014 season and signed a seven-year, $210 million deal.

Scherzer led the National League in strikeouts three years in a row, topping out with 300 strikeouts in 2018. In May of 2016, he tied a major-league record by striking out 20 batters against the Tigers.

Last year, Scherzer was 3-0 in the postseason as the Nationals won the World Series. He will be a first-ballot entrant into the Baseball Hall of Fame when his time comes.

Justin Verlander, 42-15, 2.45 ERA, 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner, no-hitter

Verlander only gets the fourth slot because of his fewer seasons away from Detroit, but he has made the most of them. He was traded by the Tigers at the deadline in 2017, and he helped the Houston Astros win the World Series that fall. Detroit received minor-leaguers Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers in return for Verlander. Only Rogers has reached the major leagues so far.

Verlander was the MVP of the 2017 ALCS by winning two games as the Astros knocked off the New York Yankees and went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

In his two full seasons with the Astros, Verlander has led the American League in WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ration both years. He led the NL with 290 strikeouts in 2018 and struck out 300 last year to finish second behind teammate Gerrit Cole’s 326.

Like Scherzer, Verlander will be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Rube Waddell, 193-143, 2.16 ERA, four-time 20-game winner, Hall of Fame.

Waddell, a left-hander, appeared in nine games for the 1898 Detroit Tigers of the Class A Western League. Two years later, the Western League was renamed the American League, and in 1901 it became a major league. By then, Waddell was long gone, but the fans at Bennett Park – the corner of Michigan and Trumbull – never forgot him and packed the park when he pitched against the Tigers.

The Louisville Colonels claimed Waddell from the Tigers in the 1898 Rule 5 draft, and he pitched for five major-league teams in his 13-year career. He was a rare strikeout pitcher in those days and led the American League in strikeouts six years in a row from 1902-07. He peaked in 1904 when he struck out 349 batters in 383 innings. The following year, he won the pitching Triple Crown by leading the league in wins (27), ERA (1.48) and strikeouts (287).

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946.


Mike Marshall, 96-109, 3.19 ERA, 188 saves, two-time all-star, 1974 NL Cy Young

Marshall would have been the perfect closer for Hubbell as both were masters of the screwball. A native of Adrian, Marshall pitched in 37 games for the Tigers in 1967 and was 1-3 with a 1.98 ERA. They sent him to the minors in 1968 and tried to convert him into a starter. He was 15-9 with a 2.94 ERA for the Toledo Mud Hens of the Class AAA International League. The Seattle Pilots chose Marshall in the 1968 expansion draft, ending his Tigers career.

Marshall, a right-hander, made a huge splash in baseball in the mid-1970s as a dominant closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he was a busy one. He appeared in a major-league record 106 games as a relief pitcher in 1974 and won the Cy Young Award. He had a 14-year major-league career and appeared in 724 games with just 24 starts., and he led the league in saves three times.

Marshall gives this team a solid and experienced closer with the rest of the eight-man bullpen filled with starters. Smoltz would provide the team depth at the back end of the bullpen as he has experience as a closer. He could move to the bullpen with a capable starter ready to take his spot in the rotation, and any of the starters could work the ninth inning as well.

Billy Pierce, 208-169, 3.22 ERA, 33 saves, 7-time all-star, AL Pitcher of the Year

Pierce is one of four left-handers and one of four 200-game winners in the eight-man bullpen. A Detroit native, Pierce broke in with the Tigers as a teen-ager when he appeared in five games in 1945. He did not return until 1948, when he was 3-0 for the Tigers in 22 games (five starts), but he had a 6.34 ERA.

Detroit needed a catcher and dealt Piece and $10,000 to the Chicago White Sox for former Yankees catcher Aaron Robinson, who lasted two-plus seasons in Detroit and was out of the major leagues by 1952. Pierce found a home with the White Sox and had double-digit wins ever year except one from 1950-62, the last coming with the San Francisco Giants.

Pierce led the American League with a 1.97 ERA in 1955 and then had back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1956-57 when he was named the American League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. He also led the league in strikeouts with 186 in 1953.

Eddie Cicotte, 208-147, 24 saves, 2.37 ERA, Black Sox Scandal

Cicotte was born in Springwells, Michgan, not far from Detroit, and made his major-league debut with the Tigers in 1905 at age 21. He was 1-1 in three games but returned to the minor leagues. The Boston Red Sox purchased his contract prior to the 1908 season, and five years later he blossomed with the Chicago White Sox.

A right-hander and a switch-hitter, Cicotte won 66 games in his first five seasons with Chicago and then went 28-12 in 1917 when the White Sox won the World Series. Two years later, Cicotte was 29-7, and the White Sox returned to the World Series as heavy favorites against the Cincinnati Reds. That was the season of the Black Sox Scandal when Chicago threw the World Series for a financial gain.

Cicotte was one of the main culprits in the scandal, which was not uncovered until after the 1920 season. Cicotte was 21-10 in 1920 to give him 209 career wins, but he was banned from baseball for life because of his involvement in the scandal.

He returned to Detroit, where he lived the remainder of his life until his death in 1969.

Jamie Moyer, 235-155, 4.19 ERA, 2008 World Series champion, AL all-star

Easily the most surprising pitcher on this staff, but it was impossible to overlook his 45.0 WAR, sixth of all pitchers for their careers after leaving the Tigers. But even more amazing is that Moyer had 235 wins after leaving the Detroit organization. The franchise record for wins is 223, held by Hooks Dauss.

Moyer was a six-year veteran who was released by the Chicago Cubs at the end of spring training in 1992, and the Tigers signed him in May and sent him to the minors, where he stayed all season. He was 10-8 with the Toledo Mud Hens with a 2.86 ERA in 1992, and the Baltimore Orioles signed him as a free agent that December.

The soft-tossing lefty went on to pitch another 19 seasons. He was a two-time 20-game winner who enjoyed his best seasons with the Seattle Mariners in the 1990s. From 1997-2009, he made at least 30 starts in every season but one. During that stretch, he was 16-7 with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 and started one game of the World Series at age 45.

Moyer pitched in his final game at age 49. He only made one all-star team, but his consistency allowed to win 269 games in his major-league career.

Jim Bunning, 106-97, 3.10 ERA, perfect game in 1964, Hall of Fame

Bunning, a right-hander, was just the second pitcher to record at least 100 wins in both the American and National Leagues. He was 118-87 for the Tigers from 1955-63, and he pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park in 1958 – one year after his only 20-win season.

Bunning, who had led the American League in strikeouts twice and set a career-high with 14 strikeouts in a game in 1958, was just 12-13 for the Tigers in 1963. It was his lowest win total since 1956, and the Tigers traded him with catcher Gus Triandos to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Don Demeter and pitcher Jack Hamilton.

Philadelphia was a fine fit for Bunning, who won 19 games in each of his first three seasons with the Phillies and tossed a perfect game against the New York Mets on Father’s Day in 1964. He finished his career with 224 wins and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

David Price, 55-25, 3.73 ERA, AL all-star, led AL in innings pitched in 2016

The stay was short and the price tag high for Price, a lefty who came to the Tigers in the summer of 2014. Detroit was bidding for its fourth consecutive American League Central Division title but had not won a World Series. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, the addition of Price to the rotation seemed to stamp the Tigers as World Series favorites. Detroit had to give up 18-year-old shortstop Willy Adames in the three-team deal. Detroit also sent pitcher Drew Smyly to Tampa Bay with Adames, and center fielder Austin Jackson went to the Seattle Mariners.

Price was the only player the Tigers acquired in the trade, and the Tigers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 ALDS. Price won just 13 games in parts of two seasons for the Tigers, and with it likely he would leave for free agency after the 2015 season, Detroit traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitchers Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and Jairo Labourt.

Price pitched well in a short time for Toronto and moved on to the Boston Red Sox, where he won 46 games in four seasons while being riddled with injuries. After the 2019 season, Price signed a three-year contract worth $96 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His post-Detroit story is not finished.

Jack Morris, 56-36, 4.55 ERA, all-star, 1991 World Series MVP, Hall of Fame

Morris lands the last right-handed spot on the pitching staff because the final two years of his career were rough. He had ERAs of 6.19 and 5.60 for Toronto and Cleveland in 1993-94, but in 1991 and 1992 he led two teams to the World Series championship. Those could not be ignored.

Morris, the ace of Detroit’s 1984 World Series team, left the Tigers via free agency after the 1990 season. He returned to his home state of Minnesota to pitch for the Twins, and in 1991 he won 18 games. That year, he matched up with Atlanta’s John Smoltz in Game 7 of the World Series, and Morris threw a 10-inning shutout for a 1-0 win in what remains one of the greatest pitched games of all-time.

The following year, Morris was in Toronto, and he was 21-6 for a Blue Jays team that won the World Series against the Braves in six games. Morris was the losing pitcher in both of Toronto’s losses, but it didn’t matter in the end.

The 1994 season was cut short by the player’s strike, and that was the end of his career. Still, he managed a 10-6 record with his 5.60 ERA and finished his career with 254 wins.

Morris was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell in 2018.

David Wells 166-101, 4.30 ERA, MVP of 1998 ALCS, perfect game, three-time all-star

Wells spent 21 seasons in the majors, and the last 12-plus seasons came after Wells was traded by the Tigers to the Cincinnati Reds on July 31, 1995. He had been a swingman with the Blue Jays, but the Tigers turned him into a full-time starter, and in 1995 he made his first all-star team.

From 1995-2005, Wells posted double-digit win totals in each season, topped by a 20-win season with Toronto in 2000. He was 18-4 for the New York Yankees in 1998 and won two games in the ALCS against the Indians as he was named the MVP of the series. In May of 1998, Wells pitched the first regular-season perfect game for the Yankees when he blanked the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium.

Wells finished his career 239-157 with 12 shutouts and 13 saves.

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