It is one of those records that could be broken at some point, but it isn’t likely.
Marc Hall pitched a Detroit Tigers franchise record 13 relief innings on July 5, 1914, in the first game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns at Navin Field.
Tigers starting pitcher George Boehler gave up three runs in the top of the first inning and did not return for the second inning. Hall, a third-year pro in his second season with the Tigers, came on in relief. A right-hander who was five weeks shy of his 27th birthday, allowed one run in the third inning and another in the eighth, and after nine innings the game was tied 4-4. It stayed that way until the top of the 14th when the Browns scored what proved to be the winning run in a 5-4 victory.
Hall had pitched 13 innings and allowed three runs on 13 hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He also was 0-for-5 at the plate, and the loss dropped him to 4-4. Earl Hamilton of St. Louis pitched all 14 innings to get the win.
Only eight pitchers have thrown more than 13 relief innings since 1913, and the record belongs to Cubs pitcher Zip Zabel, who pitched 18 and one-third innings on June 17, 1915, at West Side Grounds in Chicago.
Hall’s record 13 innings of relief become even more amazing for two reasons: 1, He had pitched four and two-third innings of relief the previous day, and 2, he was on the verge of being diagnosed with a disease that would take his life in less than seven months.
Hall, a native of Joplin, Mo., broke into professional baseball in 1907 at the age of 19 in the Class D Oklahoma-Arkansas-Kansas League. He pitched for Springfield in 1909 and Joplin in 1910 of the Class C Western Association and got his first taste of the major leagues when the St. Louis Browns in 1910. He was 1-7 with a 4.27 ERA in eight games with the Browns and returned to the minors.
In 1911-12, Hall went 42-26 in two seasons with Omaha of the Class A Western League, and that got the attention of the Tigers, who signed him for the 1913 season. He made his debut with the Tigers in his native Missouri against his old team, the Browns. Hall pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Browns in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, and he went on to got 10-12 with a 3.27 ERA for the Tigers.
Hall’s season was cut short in August when he broke a bone in his foot while fielding a bunt. The highlight of the season was a four-hit shutout on June 1, 1913, against the White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago. It was the only shutout of his career.
Hall entered the 1914 season with high hopes. Eight of his 25 appearances were as a starter, and he was 4-6 with a 2.79 ERA when his season – and ultimately, his career – ended when he was diagnosed with diabetes. The doctors told him he would never play baseball again. The Tigers released him.
Hall reported early to the Tigers’ training camp in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1915, in an attempt to work out on his own. Even though he did not feel he would be in shape to make a major-league roster, he hoped to show enough to land in the minors, according to The Sporting News.
During that time, Hall’s illness became worse, and he returned home to Joplin, where he died on Feb. 24, 1915, at the age of 27.
Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Elden Auker wrote in his book that the only major-league player he knew of before he played baseball was Babe Ruth. Even the subtitle of the book is, “A Lifetime of Memories From Striking Out The Babe to Teeing It Up With The President.”
There is no verification that Auker ever struck out Ruth. In his book, he said it happened in 1933 after he entered the game as a relief pitcher in the third inning. In Auker’s first appearance against the Yankees, he did enter the game in the third inning. Babe Ruth sat out that game.
Auker pitched against the Yankees twice that season, and Ruth did not play in either game. OK, maybe he mixed up the seasons. In 1934, Auker pitched against the Yankees five times. Here is a recap of those five games:
May 5, 1934: Ruth grounded out the first time he faced Auker and homered in the second meeting.
May 18, 1934: Ruth singled and walked against Auker.
June 16, 1934: Ruth singled in his only at-bat against Auker.
July 14, 1934: Ruth grounded out, homered and singled in three at-bats against Auker.
September 19, 1934: Ruth did not play.
That’s it. Auker faced Ruth just eight times, and Ruth was 5-for-7 with two home runs and a walk. The only times Auker retired Ruth were on two ground outs, unless the historical play-by-play is wrong.
However, we’re not going to hold it against Auker, whose book was published in 2001 – 68 years after the alleged strikeout of Ruth.
However, there was a day in 1937 when Auker hit like The Babe, and this one is verified Auker had three career home runs, and two came on August 14 in the first game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns at Navin Field in Detroit.
Auker pitched a four-hitter in a 15-1 win. After a sacrifice fly in the third, Auker led off the sixth inning with a home run off Nig Lipscomb, a rookie second baseman who was being used as a pitcher to give the bullpen a rest in the blowout. An inning later, Auker hit a three-run shot off Lipscomb to give him five RBIs.
“Part of the beauty of baseball is that on any given day even a banjo hitter might just swing the bat with more power than one of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game,” Auker wrote in his book.
Auker was not making another reference to Ruth. He was writing about teammate Hank Greenberg, who had hit 26 home runs that season going into the doubleheader. The Tigers pounded the Browns in the second game, too, so St. Louis again turned to Lipscomb to rest toe bullpen.
Greenberg faced Lipscomb two times in the first game. He grounded into a double play and popped out to second base. In the second game, Greenberg 2-for-3 with a walk before Lipscomb entered the game. Greenberg finished 2-for-5, so it’s clear that he was hitless in two at-bats and finished the say 0-for-4 against the rookie.
“After it was over, I went up to Hank in the clubhouse and said, ‘Here, you want these two home runs of mine? I don’t need them,’ ” Auker wrote in his book.
Greenberg finished with 40 home runs in 1937. Auker never hit another one for Detroit.
“How can I get the same feeling of satisfaction out of it? I’m not giving them the same thing, so I’m not getting the same thing. You think they’re hurting me? But I’m hurting them, that’s the difference.” – Lou Gehrig to his wife, Eleanor, on May 1, 1939, the day before he benched himself in Detroit.
When Lou Gehrig decided to bench himself on May 2, 1939, it was a decision that did not come overnight. It might have started back in the final month-plus of the 1938 season when Gehrig hit an unusual three home runs in the final 39 games of the season.
After struggling in the preseason, Gehrig was off to a slow start in 1939, and on April 30, Gehrig was convinced his play was hurting the Yankees. He went 0-for-4 in a game against the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium, and in his final at-bat he hit the ball as hard as he had hit one all season, and it failed to clear the fence for a home run.
In the next inning, Gehrig fielded a ball to his right at first base. Normally, he would have jogged to first to make the out, but he realized he might not get there in time and had to throw the ball to the pitcher to make the out. Gehrig’s teammates congratulated him in the dugout, and it caused him to wonder if his play had fallen so far that he would be congratulated for making a routine play.
“Heavens, has it reached that stage?” he asked himself, according to Jonathan Eig’s book, “Luckiest Man.”
The Yankees had an off day before starting a road trip in Detroit. Joe DiMaggio already was out with an injury, and Gehrig was not producing with a .143 batting average and no home runs in eight games.
At home on Monday, Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor, described him as, “troubled, shaken, even shocked,” in “Luckiest Man.”
The train carrying the Yankees arrived in Detroit early that Tuesday morning. After eating breakfast with Yankees catcher Bill Dickey at the Book-Cadillac Hotel, Gehrig saw manager Joe McCarthy in the lobby. Gehrig told McCarthy they needed to talk, and when they arrived at the manager’s room, Gehrig asked McCarthy to play someone else at first base.
Gehrig had played in 2,130 consecutive games, stretching from June 2, 1925, until April 30, 1939, so it was national news that he was going to miss a game.
McCarthy talked the press and said, “it’s a black day for me and the Yankees.”
Babe Dahlgren was chosen to replace Gehrig at first base, and he pleaded with Gehrig to reconsider, but Gehrig had his mind made up. After batting practice and infield practice, it was obvious that Gehrig was going to sit out the game, and the only thing left was to make it official.
McCarthy gave the lineup card to Gehrig, who as team captain occasionally would take it out to the meeting with umpires at home plate prior to the game. As Gehrig walked back to the dugout, Tigers broadcaster Ty Tyson grabbed the public address system and said, “How about a hand for Lou Gehrig, who played in 2,130 games in a row before he benched himself today.”
The crowd of 11,000 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit responded with cheers and an ovation. Gehrig rose to the top step of the dugout, tipped his cap and retreated to the locker room in tears. Doc Holst described the scene in The Detroit Free Press.
“Gehrig bawled like an engineer who has been given a party at his retirement on full pension after 55 years of faithful, honest service,” Holst wrote. “Gehrig cried because at 36, the greatest thing in his life had ended. He felt like a nobody.
“He didn’t want a parasol for 50 years of faithful service or an engraved gold watch. He wanted to keep on working. Rocking on the front porch and thinking of the things you used to do holds no glamour for a thirty-six-year-old man. So, Gehrig bawled like a baby and Boss McCarthy of the Yankees didn’t blame him.
“He’s the only truly modest fellow I’ve ever known,” McCarthy said in the Free Press. “He could hit a ball over that Masonic Temple over there, and you would never hear Lou tell about it. I never in my life heard Gehrig talk about something that he did. It was always something he didn’t do that worried him.”
It created a somber atmosphere in Briggs Stadium, but the game went on. The Tigers were starting a rookie pitcher, Fred Hutchinson, who was making his major-league debut. Hutchinson went on to pitch for Detroit for 10 seasons and win 95 games. He later managed the Cincinnati Reds but died of cancer at age 45. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center was named in his honor.
The Yankees were way too much for Hutchinson in his debut. He gave up eight runs in the first three innings, and New York went on to a 22-2 victory, obviously fired up to win one for Gehrig. Dahlgren, who replaced Gehrig, had two hits, including a home run in the third inning.
Gehrig never played again, although he stayed with the team as the two-week road trip progressed. When the team was in Chicago, Gehrig flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where he underwent tests for six days before it was determined that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which later became known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
He was finished as a ballplayer, and on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day was held at Yankee Stadium. It was then that Gehrig made his famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. He died on June 2, 1941, at the age of 37.
Gehrig lived nearly two years after his diagnosis and just 25 months to the day after he benched himself on a Tuesday afternoon in Detroit. That same day, a baby named William James Brown was born in Crestline, Ohio, less than 200 miles from Detroit. Thirty years later, that baby would become one of the most beloved Tigers players of all time. But we didn’t know him as William Brown or Bill Brown, we knew him as Gates Brown, born on the same day Lou Gehrig benched himself in Detroit.
Some might say Dale Alexander started his major-league career 44 years too soon. He was the prototype for the designated hitter, which started in the American League in 1973.
The strapping Alexander, nicknamed “Moose” or “Ox,” burst onto the major-league scene in a way few have, but defensive liabilities, a powerless stretch and eventually an injury left other players and fans to wonder what could have been.
Alexander attracted attention in 1928 with Toronto in the International League. He batted .380 with 236 hits, 31 home runs and 144 RBIs, and he was purchased by the Tigers along with another player for $100,000.
Tigers Hall-of-Fame outfielder Harry Heilmann was attempting to make the move to first base in spring training, but Alexander put on a power display that resulted in Detroit keeping Heilmann in the outfield.
The first-base job belonged to Alexander. It turned into an historic season.
Alexander hit for power and hit for average, much as he had the previous season in Toronto.
Some were calling Alexander the new Babe Ruth, but the original Ruth was more than holding his own. A doubleheader on September 7, 1929, featuring Alexander’s Tigers and Ruth’s Yankees, drew a lot of attention at Yankee Stadium.
Alexander won the matchup in the first game as he had a triple, home run and three RBIs in a 5-4 victory for the Tigers. Ruth was held to two singles. However, Ruth turned the tables in the second game with three hits, including a double and his 41st home run of the season, and four RBIs as New York defeated the Tigers 11-7.
Alexander had a single, double, home run and two RBIs as both sluggers finished with five hits in the doubleheader.
At the end of the season, Alexander had 25 home runs, 137 RBIs and a .343 average. He finished with 215 hits, making him the first rookie in the American League with more than 200 hits since Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox had 239 in 1911. Alexander also made history along with teammate Roy Johnson, who had 201 hits, as the first rookie teammates to each top 200 hits in a season.
But there was a problem. Alexander was horrible in the field.
“I know I look bad at first base,” Alexander said in a story written by Michael Santa Maria and James Costello in the 1991 Baseball Research Journal. “I had the bad habit of getting my feet crossed at first. But I’ve had some good coaching, and I’m getting so I can reach for a ball without falling down.”
He made 56 errors in his first three seasons at first base and twice led the AL in that category.
John Kieran of the New York Times wrote, “Big Dale used to play beside Charley Gehringer and Charley went into a decline after a while. That is, he practically declined to play second if Dale continued to play first.”
Kieran went on to write that when a ball came the way of Alexander, he would say, “I’ll take it – no, you take it – never mind, I have it – ah, there it goes.”
But he continued to hit. In 1930, Alexander nearly duplicated his great rookie season by batting .326 with 20 home runs and 135 RBIs. During the season he had a 29-game hitting streak that featured six home runs and 40 RBIs. Alexander drove in at least one run in 22 of the 29 games, including 19 of the last 22.
The highlight of the streak came on May 24 against the Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park. He homered in consecutive at-bats off Tommy Thomas, and his second home run came after one hit by Marty McManus for back-to-back shots.
The streak came to an end on June 19 in Yankee Stadium. The Tigers had off days on June 17-18 to travel from Detroit, where they had just concluded a 13-game homestand. Ed Wells and a rookie by the name of Vernon Gomez – who would become better known in future years as Lefty Gomez – combined to end Alexander’s streak with an 0-for-3 performance, although he did have a sacrifice fly. Wells left the game after five innings with a blister.
Alexander began the 1931 season by collecting 27 hits in 53 at bats (.509) in 14 games. Of course, he could not keep up that pace, and he ended up hitting .325. But something was missing. He had just three home runs in 517 at bats.
With his power gone, Alexander was not nearly the feared hitter that he had been his first two seasons, causing Shirley Povich to write in the Washington Post, “When Alexander isn’t hitting he’s about as much use to a club as an armless pitcher.”
A few days before the 1932 season opener, the Tigers purchased Harry Davis from Toronto, and Tigers manager Bucky Harris, frustrated with Alexander’s defensive shortcomings, announced that Davis was his new first baseman.
Alexander never made a start for the Tigers in 1932. He appeared in 23 of their first 50 games – nearly all of them as a pinch-hitter – and Detroit dealt him to the Boston Red Sox on June 13, 1932. The Tigers swapped Alexander and outfielder Roy Johnson – the same Roy Johnson who had 201 hits for the Tigers in 1929 – for outfielder Earl Webb, who led the AL in doubles in 1931 and batted .333.
Alexander was batting just .250 (4-for-16) in 23 games when they dealt him, but he found Boston and Fenway Park to his liking. He went on to post a .372 average in 101 games for the Red Sox and became the first player to win a batting championship in the same season in which he had been traded. But the batting title came with controversy.
Alexander’s .367 average came in 392 at bats and 124 games. That was before baseball changed the rule so that a batter would need 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title; in 1932 it was 100 games.
Alexander’s batting title cost Philadelphia Athletics first baseman Jimmie Foxx the Triple Crown. Foxx led the AL with 58 home runs and 169 RBIs, but his .364 average fell short of Alexander.
However, Alexander’s rebirth as a slugger was short-lived. On May 30, 1933, Alexander twisted his knee sliding into home in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics. He underwent a new therapy in the clubhouse between games, and that was the beginning of his decline.
Alexander returned to the Red Sox and belted a home run 11 days later against the Washington Senators at Fenway Park, but he wasn’t the same slugger. Alexander finished the 1933 season with a .281 average – his only average under .325 in five big-league seasons – five home runs and 40 RBIs. He hit the final home run of his major-league career off Tigers reliever Firpo Marberry at Navin Field in Detroit on June 21, 1933.
“I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t field, and when I got hurt, that was the end,” Alexander said.
The following season he was in Newark of the International League, and he never played in the big leagues again. However, he showed minor-league fans a glimpse of his massive power on June 14, 1935, when he hit four home runs in four successive at bats for Double-A Kansas City. For the rest of his minor league career, Alexander never hit under .300 until his final season in 1942. In the minor leagues, Alexander finished with 2,072 hits, 1,171 RBIs and an average of .338.
When he was through playing, Alexander became a manager in the minor leagues and later a scout and totaled 36 years in professional baseball. He died after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer on March 2, 1979, in his hometown of Greenville, Tenn. He was 75.
“D” TALES: Dale Alexander’s rebirth as a slugger with the Boston Red Sox was short-lived.
On May 30, 1933, Alexander twisted his knee sliding into home in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Red Sox trainer Doc Woods tried diathermy, a new therapy, on Alexander in the clubhouse between games. In the 1991 Baseball Research Journal, Michael Santa Maria and James Costello wrote, “Diathermy uses electric currents to produce heat in body tissues. After putting Dale in for the treatment, the trainer went out to get something to eat and forgot about him.”
Years later, Alexander’s son Don said, “They’d just barbecued his leg. It really sort of atrophied. It really was smaller than the other. Just like it was a burn. Scarring tissue. It was discolored.”
Alexander described the treatment in that issue of Baseball Research Journal.
“It was a new method of treatment and not much was known about it,” Alexander said. “I noticed my left leg felt awfully hot. I ended up with third-degree burns and a gangrene infection, and I almost lost my leg. I was finished in the majors.”
After his first 532 at-bats in the major leagues, 20-year-old Al Kaline had a career .274 batting average with five home runs and 45 RBIs.
Those are pre-1955 numbers. That season changed everything for Kaline, and he wasted no time doing it. He had two hits in each of his first five games leading up to an April 17 game against the Kansas City Athletics at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. It would be Kaline’s first big moment in the major leagues/
Still only 20, Kaline hit third and played right field for the Tigers against Athletics second-year right-hander Johnny Gray. It was scoreless going into the bottom of the third, but Kaline, who had walked in the first inning, ended that with a two-out, two run home run off a curveball, giving him a six-game hitting streak. The Tigers battered Gary in the fourth, driving him from the mound with Charlie Bishop taking over. Kaline capped a four-run inning with a run-scoring single, and that gave him six consecutive multi-hit games.
Kaline was far from through for the day.
The next time Kaline came to the plate, it was the bottom of the sixth inning, and Bob Spicer was on the mound for Kansas City. Kaline led off by blasting a fast ball over the wall in left-center field for his second home run of the game. The Tigers batted around to bring Kaline to the plate again with a runner on third and one out and Detroit leading 14-0. Now facing Bob Trice, Kaline smacked a slider into the lower left field stands for a two-run homer to score Harvey Kuenn, giving him three home runs in the game and two in the same inning. And he hit them off three different pitches from three different pitchers.
With a chance at four home runs in one game, Kaline came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but Trice retired him on an infield popup, leaving Kaline’s line at 4-for-5 with three home runs, six RBIs and three runs scored.
The last American League player to hit two home runs in the same inning was New York Yankees great center fielder Joe DiMaggio on June 2, 1936, and Kaline was the first to do it for the Tigers. The three-homer game was the first by a Detroit player since Pat Mullin in 1949.
It not only was a springboard to a batting title, it was a springboard to a Hall-of-Fame career.
The headline on Page 1 of the Detroit Free Press read, “Shy Guy With Big Bat.” Free Press sportswriter Hal Middlesworth, who would later become public relations director for the Tigers, wrote, “No one could have picked Kaline as the newest addition to baseball’s honor roll of slugging.”
Kaline didn’t try to explain it.
“My stance and swing are the same,” he said in the Free Press, “and I’m using the same bat.”
One difference was a weight gain. When the 1954 season ended, Kaline weighed 155 pounds, and he was at 175 for the start of the 1955 season.
While Kaline could not continue his six-game streak of multi-hit games to open the season, he continued to hit consistently through the first month of the season. He stretched his season-opening hitting streak to 14 games and was batting .453 with an OPS of 1.373 at that point. He quickly added an 11-game hitting streak before going 0-for-4 on May 13. Then, he hit in another six in a row to make it 25 out of 26 and 31 out of 33 to start the season.
As if that wasn’t good enough, Kaline then embarked on his longest hitting streak of the season. He had a 15-game hitting streak from May 24 through June 7. He was 25-for-59 for a .424 average with three doubles, one triple, two home runs and 10 RBIs. His batting average was .378.
Kaline really was not threatened much as the season progressed, and Vic Power finished second to Kaline at .319 and George Kell, the former Tigers player who later would team up with Kaline on the television broadcasts, was third at .312.
Although Al Kaline is not considered the greatest Tigers player of all-time – that would be Ty Cobb – he is the unquestioned Mr. Tiger.
Kaline had a greatness of his own on the field, and it was solidified when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot Off the field, he was nothing but class for more than 65 years with the franchise as a player, television analyst, front-office employee and franchise icon.
Kaline, who never played in the minors and made his professional debut in the majors at 18, had no weaknesses. He could hit for average (career .297), he could hit for power (399 career home runs, .480 slugging percentage), and he could run (137 career stolen bases. And he had a keen eye with 1,277 walks to 1,020 strikeouts.
Defensively, he won the American League Gold Glove Award 10 times, and his rocket arm helped him lead the league in assists for an outfielder three times (1954-56-58). He likely never led the league again in assists as base runners stopped testing his arm.
He went from the Baltimore sandlots right to Detroit, skipping the minor leagues because he was considered a bonus baby (a player who received more than a $4,000 signing bonus). He received a $35,000 signing bonus, which meant he had to remain in the major leagues for two seasons before he would be eligible to be sent to the minors.
“It was certainly great to go right to the major leagues, but I have to say it was very tough emotionally on me,” Kaline told Will Carroll of the Bleacher Report in 2014. “Here’s an 18-year-old kid coming in and taking somebody’s job who probably spent four, five, six years in the minors.
“I remember the first day I joined the ballclub, a veteran player grabbed me by the shirt and said, ‘You don’t belong up here, you took my best friend’s job.’ (It) scared me to death, I’m only 18 years old and I’m only doing what they told me to do.”
Kaline joined the team in June of 1953 but was more of a spectator than a player. He was mostly used as a pinch-runner, and by the end of August he was 2-for-12 in 23 appearances without a start. However, on September 16, Kaline drew his first start. As a center fielder, he hit eighth in the batting order and went 3-for-5 with an RBI in Detroit’s 8-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Kaline made three more starts that month, and in 1954 he was a regular from the start, including Opening Day, when he played center field. At 19, Kaline hit .276 but only had 25 extra-base hits out of 139 as his body had yet to fill out. Still, he finished third in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year and 23rd for the AL MVP Award. He was set up for a breakout season.
In 1955, Kaline went from contender for the Rookie of the Year Award to American League batting champion and runner-up in the voting for the AL MVP Award. He also was named an all-star for the first time. He started with a bang – six consecutive multi-hit games to start the season, including three home runs in one game. That was the beginning of his new-found power, and he went on to hit 27 home runs with 102 RBIs and 121 runs scored. His slugging percentage jumped from .652 to .967.
Kaline became the youngest player to win the batting title – he hit .340 with 200 hits – breaking the record set 48 years earlier by Cobb. He was one day younger than Cobb had been when Cobb won the batting title.
For the next six years, Kaline topped 500 at-bats each season and reached at least a .300 batting average four times. In 1959, Kaline led the American League with a .530 slugging percentage and a .940 OPS after hitting .327 with 27 home runs and 94 RBIs.
In 1961, Kaline led the league with 41 doubles as the Tigers won 101 games but still finished second behind the New York Yankees. He also had a 22-game hitting streak, which ended up being the longest of his career, and he seemed prime for another outstanding season in 1962.
Going into the game on May 26, 1962, Kaline was hitting .345 with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in 36 games. He seemed on his way to a potential MVP season, but in a game at Yankee Stadium, Kaline broke his collar bone while diving for a game-saving catch in right field. Detroit had a 2-1 lead, and a runner was on first with two out when Elston Howard drove the ball to right field. Kaline charged the ball and made a tumbling catch, securing the ball as his collar bone was broken.
“I don’t remember exactly what happened” Kaline, already wearing a cast, told Detroit Free Press writer Joe Falls after the game. “I know I was playing deep, out by the Yankee bullpen. If it wasn’t the ninth inning, I wouldn’t be doing that, but I had to guard against the extra-base hit. They had a guy on first base, and I didn’t want him to score. I had to be ready in case Howard hit one toward the seats.
“It happened so sudden. I remember falling. … I don’t know why I fell … and that’s about all.”
Kaline, an established star, missed two months. The Tigers were 19-17 at the time of the injury, and they were 26-30 without him. Kaline picked up where he left off on July 23 when he returned to the lineup, and he finished the season with a .304 batting average, 29 home runs and 94 RBIs in just 100 games. It established a career-high in home runs for Kaline, who never hit 30 in a season despite finishing with 399.
The injury certainly cost Kaline reaching 400 career home runs, but also might have cost him the AL MVP Award. By missing one-third of the season, he would have projected to more than 40 home runs and around 130 RBIs had he stayed healthy. It would have been his career year.
Kaline made a run at the 1963 MVP and finished second with 27 home runs, 101 RBIs and a .312 batting average. After that, Kaline never reached 100 RBIs again, but he had back-to-back 25-plus home run seasons in 1966-67. The 1967 season was a huge disappointment for Kaline as the Tigers lost the final game of the season when a victory would have put them in a tie for first place in the American League.
Kaline, sensing that he might never play in a World Series, and the rest of the Tigers were ready for 1968. Again, an injury popped up at the worst time possible for Kaline. On May 25 – late May, just like in 1962 – Kaline was hit by a pitch thrown by Oakland pitcher Lew Krausse. The Tigers won 2-1 to improve to 24-14 with a two-game lead in the American League, but Kaline was sidelined again.
This time, Kaline missed a little more than a month, but in the meantime, the Tigers had used Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup in the outfield, and all three were performing well enough to be starters. Kaline was good but not like younger Kaline, and his OPS of .820 was the lowest it had been since 1960 and seconc-lowest since 1954.
The Tigers easily won the pennant, but manager Mayo Smith had a dilemma. He wanted Kaline’s bat in the lineup for the World Series, but he did not know which outfielder would be replaced. Smith approached Kaline about playing third base in place of Don Wert, and Kaline took grounders there during batting practice for a few days before the idea was scratched.
With five games remaining in the regular season, Smith told Stanley that he would be playing shortstop in the World Series. Stanley was a great defensive center fielder and a fine athlete, so Smith felt he could handle the job and replace starting shortstop Ray Oyler, who was fine defensively but a liability at the plate.
Kaline’s spot in the lineup was secure. He would play right field, while Northrup would move to center. It is considered one of the biggest positional moves in World Series history, and it worked. After losing three of the first four games of the World Series to the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, the Tigers won the last three to win the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Kaline was instrumental in the outcome. He hit .379 with a 1.055 OPS in the seven games with two home runs, eight RBIs and six runs scored. He also had what he considers to be the most important hit of his career. In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5 at Tiger Stadium, Detroit was facing elimination and trailing 3-2 with the bases loaded with one out. Kaline, facing Joe Hoerner, singled to right-center to score two runs for a 4-3 lead. Norm Cash added a run-scoring single, and the Tigers won 5-3.
From there, the Cardinals did not score again until the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. By then, it was too late.
Kaline savored the victory. Team always meant more than individual to him, and it showed in the Detroit Free Press. He wrote a column each day of the World Series, and after Game 7, he finished his story by writing, “It always means more when you have to work for something, and, of course, I’ve been around 16 years and this is my
first pennant and World Series. And then, the way we won it made it doubly good, the way we played all year, from the time of that nine-game winning streak right after we lost on Opening Day/
“It’s been my greatest year in baseball. I’ll never forget it.”
The record shows that, in Kaline’s “greatest year in baseball,” he hit .287 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs and missed more than a month with an injury. That’s a team player. That’s Kaline.
However, that wasn’t the end of Kaline’s career, either. He hit 21 home runs in 1969 – his final 20-homer season – as the Tigers failed to defend their championship. The Tigers offered Kaline a contract for $100,000 – an amount no Detroit player had ever received. Kaline rejected it, saying that he felt he did not deserve it. A year later, he received the same offer and accepted it.”
While Kaline began to slip as he passed through his mid-30s and into his late 30s, he never was a liability. His average never dropped below .250, and he never failed to hit at least 10 home runs in a season.
Kaline and the Tigers reached the postseason again in 1972 by winning the American League East Division title. The Tigers clinched it in the next-to-last day with a victory over the Boston Red Sox at Tiger Stadium, and Kaline caught the final out, waving his arms in the air as he camped under the ball hit by Ben Oglivie. Kaline wasn’t as effective in the American League Championship Series as he had been in the World Series, but he still hit .263 with a home run and three runs scored as the Tigers lost to the Oakland Athletics, who went on to win the World Series by beating the Cincinnati Reds.
As Kaline neared the end of his career, there was one target he wanted to reach: 3,000 career hits. At the time, just 11 players had reached the milestone. While Kaline would certainly have liked to have reached 3,000 hits at Tiger Stadium, he did it at the next-best place: Memorial Stadium in his hometown of Baltimore. Kaline hit a pitch thrown by Orioles left-hander down the right-field line for a stand-up double and his place in the exclusive 3,000-hit club.
“This definitely ranks above the batting championship,” Kaline said in the Detroit Free Press. “Any time you win a batting championship, there’s a lot of luck that goes with it. But when you get 3,000 hits, I don’t think anybody can say you were just lucky. You’ve had to withstand the pressure of all those seasons, and injuries and everything. To me, that really means something. But, nothing will surpass winning the World Series.”
Kaline had seven hits left in him, and he collected No. 3,007 on October 1, 1974, at Tiger Stadium. It was a single to center off Jim Palmer, an Orioles pitcher who eventually joined him in the Hall of Fame.
Kaline was an 18-time American League all-star, and he started seven All-Star Games (1955-56-57-59-61-63-66). He hit .324 (12-for-37) with a double, two home runs and six RBIs, and he also stole a base. He homered off Braves pitcher Lew Burdette in Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in the first of two All-Star Games in 1959. The following year, he again hit a home run in the first of two All-Star Games, this time off Braves pitcher Bob Buhl at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City.
On January 9, 1980, Kaline was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was named on 88.3 percent (340 of 385 ballots) of the ballots; 75 percent was necessary for election. Long-time Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider also was elected on the ballot.
“I don’t think my vocabulary can express what I feel,” Kaline said in the Detroit Free Press. “Knowing all the great players who didn’t make it on the first ballot, I thought my chances of making it were nip and tuck, maybe 50-50. So, I tried to stay low key.
“Certainly, the ultimate possible is to go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. It’s super just to get in. I really never thought I would choose an individual thing that happened just to me over a team thing like the World Series. But I would have to say this is the biggest thin that has ever happened to me.”
The Tigers announced that they would retire Kaline’s No. 6 at a ceremony that summer.
During Kaline’s speech at his induction into the Hall of Fame, he said, “Regardless what anyone tells you, a player is only as good as those other players around him. I can’t tell you how lucky I’ve been to have played with some of the fellows that I did. Maybe we didn’t win a lot of pennants, but the Tigers were always there. Without naming all those who helped save my career, please accept my hearty thanks, guys.”
Two weeks after his induction into the Hall of Fame, Kaline became the first Tigers player to have his number retired. It happened between games of a doubleheader with the Texas Rangers at Tiger Stadium on August 17, 1980. A crowd of 42,117 turned out to honor the man who wore No. 6.
Kaline told the crowd that playing in Detroit made him “one of the luckiest baseball players that ever lived,” and he added that Detroit was “the greatest baseball town in the major leagues. It made my career more enjoyable than any players has a right to expect.”
Tiger Stadium closed after the 1999 season, and Comerica Park was opened in 2000. The Tigers mounted six statues behind the seats in left-center field: Ty Cobb, Hal Newhouser, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton and Kaline. In his statue, Kaline is shown reaching his glove hand above his head trying to catch a fly ball.
Kaline remained active with the team after his playing days. He became an analyst for Tigers games on television along with another Hall-of-Famer, George Kell, and Kaline accepted a front-office role as an advisor for team owner Mike Ilitch in 2001. He remained in that role through the 2010s.
On April 6, 2020, with baseball on hold because of the coronavirus, Kaline died at his home from an undisclosed illness at age 85.
The news of Al Kaline’s death felt like an electric shock. He was my youth. By the time I started following the Tigers, Kaline was an established star. He had won the American League batting championship in 1955, the year I was born.
In fact, the very first Tigers game of my life came on May 5, 1955 – 5-5-55 – one day after I was born at 11:15 p.m. and the Tigers game that day was over. The next day, with me screaming in a nursery at Foote Hospital, Kaline hit a two-out, walk-off triple to lead the Tigers to a 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Briggs Stadium in Detroit.
I would have loved that. Actually, I do love that. Kaline brought home a winner in the first game of my life.
To a young boy growing up in Michigan, Al Kaline was baseball. Other than 1961, and I wasn’t old enough to appreciate them that year, the Tigers were not real good in the early to mid 1960s. That is why Kaline was so important to a 10-year-old boy. The Tigers had a real star. The Yankees had Mickey Mantle, the Red Sox had Carl Yastzemski and the Orioles had the Robinsons, but Detroit had No. 6, and he didn’t get here through a trade of anything else. The Tigers signed him out of a Baltimore high school, and Kaline never played a day in the minor leagues.
Kaline was my first favorite player, although as the 1960s moved on, I gravitated to pitchers and clung to Denny McLain in 1968. But I always worshipped Kaline as he seemed bigger than life to me.
I had to be there in the rain on Al Kaline Day at Tiger Stadium. I wanted to be at Cooperstown when he went into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I was not able to pull that off. One thing I never dreamed was that one day I would meet him and have a conversation with him.
Oh, the perks of the sports writing business. On occasion, we get to meet our heroes, but we can’t act like we’re meeting our heroes. It has to be professional. I had been in his presence a few times but never really had a chance to talk with him one-on-one until 1999, when I interviewed him for my 2 1/2 Minutes column in the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
Kaline was never rude, but he was not comfortable in an interview session with someone he didn’t know, and he really didn’t like to talk about himself. But after I approached him, Kaline agreed to sit down and have a chat.
I was excited and calm at the same time, and really, I only remember one thing about it. I asked a question that resulted in an answer I was not expecting. I asked him if he thought that his injury woes through his career hurt his performance in the long run.
Kaline basically said he wished that he could have done better but he did the best he could. I felt like a jerk. Somehow, he took that question as my criticizing his career, when I actually was trying to say, “Al, you were a great, great player. How much greater would you have been without injuries.”
It didn’t hamper the rest of the interview, but to this day I regret that I did not word the question better. Most players would not have taken it that way, but Al was an introvert to those he didn’t know, and maybe he thought I had an agenda.
I ran into Al in the locker room a few years later, and he recognized me and said hi, and that made me feel a lot better. Those were my only two personal interactions with him, other than getting an autograph at a card show many years earlier.
Al Kaline wasn’t the greatest player ever. He wasn’t even the greatest Tiger ever. But he is Mr. Tiger, and there will only be one Mr. Tiger. He could do it all. He could hit for average, he could hit for power, he could field, he could throw and he could run – above average for all five tools.
Off the field he was the perfect ambassador for the Tigers. He remained in Detroit, and as a TV color man on Tigers games, he became visible to the generation that was born too late to watch him play. Then he joined the front office, and every summer, No. 6 was on the field, never being pushy with advice but always being there to give it if a young player would just ask.
In Detroit baseball history, there will likely be another Al Kaline, a teen-ager who never played in the minors leagues and became the youngest player ever to win a batting title. Then throughout his scandal-free career, he was a player to be proud of; a player to look up to. He earned and deserved all the admiration that he received.
Al Kaline was a superstar. Al Kaline was a gentleman. And in a world of big egos and wild lifestyles, Al Kaline was just a kid from Baltimore who wanted to play baseball more than anything in the world. And he played it better than almost everyone in the world.
Thanks for the memories.
A few months ago, I ran my 2 1/2 Minutes column that ran in the Jackson Citizen Patriot in 1999. I thought I’d share it again at this time. Maybe some of you never saw or, or a few might want to read it again.
I feel very fortunate to have spent the time with Al Kaline not only for the story but for the memory of my interactions with a giant personality of my youth.
When I worked at The Jackson Citizen Patriot, I wrote a column called 2 ½ minutes. That’s how long it normally took to read it. The column was a question-and-answer format with a topical sports personality.
Just days before the final game at Tiger Stadium in September of 1999, Al Kaline agreed to be the subject of the column that would run the week of the final game. Really, there was nobody better than No. 6 to signify the closing of Tiger Stadium.
Here is the column, as it was written in 1999:
When the final out has been made at Tiger Stadium on Monday, Al Kaline should have first choice of what he wants to take home. He is the greatest living Tigers player, and he played in more games for the Tigers than any other player.
Ty Cobb may be the greatest Tigers player of all-time, but not many are still around who can remember seeing Cobb play. There will be many in attendance on Monday who witnessed Kaline’s brilliant career.
Question: How long did it take for the aura of Tiger Stadium to wear off when you first made it to the major leagues?
Kaline: First of all, I didn’t know how long I was going to be a part of the Tigers. As the years progressed and I started having good years and knew I was going to be here for a while, I started thinking, ‘Wow, Ty Cobb played in the same outfield I played in. Hank Greenberg hit a home run in the same spot that I did. Babe Ruth played here.’
Question: How much pressure was put on you for becoming the youngest player to win a batting title?
Kaline: The first year after that was a tough thing to live with because there were a lot of expectations and being compared to Cobb and people like that. It was a little bit difficult.
Question: How concerned were you in September of 1968 about your chances of playing in the World Series?
Kaline: I had missed six weeks of the season and (manager) Mayo Smith was in quite a difficult spot because the writers were starting to write, ‘Is Kaline going to play?’ I was getting to the age where maybe I would never get the chance again, and it turned out to be true. I had a conversation with Mayo, and I told him I thought it was only right that he played the guys that got him there. Then he made the comment to me that I should work out at third base and take some ground balls before I got back in the lineup. He was going to play me at third base in the World Series, but then Willie Horton got hurt and missed the last three or four weeks of the season. I went back out to right field, and I really had a great month, and that was when the decision was made to put (Mickey) Stanley at shortstop and keep me in the outfield.
Question: You drove in the winning run in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Was that your biggest moment in Tiger Stadium?
Kaline: It’s certainly one of them, although it wasn’t one of the hardest hit balls I ever hit here, but more people saw that than any other hit I had. I would say it was the most important hit I ever had here, getting a chance to get a big hit in the fifth game of the World Series.
Question: How did you feel in 1984 as a TV announcer when the Tigers won the World Series?
Kaline: I loved it. I loved working that season. When they got off to their great start of 35-5, it was a joy to be around those guys. When you win, it really creates a team atmosphere. It’s all for the team, and nobody cares about individuals. When you lose, everybody tends to think about individual things.
Question: If you had your choice of anything to take from Tiger Stadium, what would it be?
Kaline: I’ve been thinking a lot about it, but I haven’t made a decision. I would like to take home plate or my locker, and from what I understand, there are a lot of guys who want home plate, so I’d better get here the night before and dig it out.
Question: What about the No. 6 that is on the third deck that represents your retired uniform number?
Kaline: Oh wow. I hadn’t even thought about that. It’s so big, though, I don’t know where I would put it in my house.”
In his ninth season of professional baseball, Jarrod Patterson had to accept a demotion to put himself in a position for the biggest promotion of his career.
Prior to the 2001 season, Patterson had spent eight years in the minors playing for four organizations: the Mets, the Diamondbacks, the Pirates and the Expos. He even had a one-year stop with an independent league team in 1997.
After the 2000 season, Patterson signed as a minor-league free agent with the Tigers, and he began the 2001 season in the Class AAA International League with the Toledo Mud Hens. But he wasn’t a starter, and his offensive production suffered with his inconsistent play.
“Early in the season, I would pinch-hit, DH and play a utility role,” Patterson said in The Toledo Blade. “But it’s hard to get into a rhythm when you’re not playing every day.”
However, on May 15, Brant Ust, the third baseman at Class AA Erie, suffered an injury, and Patterson accepted the demotion to Erie so he could play every day in place of Ust.
“Things happen for a reason,” Patterson said in The Toledo Blade. “I decided to accept the assignment with a positive attitude, because you can go to the big leagues just as easily from Double-A as Triple-A.”
In 20 games with Erie, Patterson hit .400 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs, and he was recalled by the Mud Hens after starting third baseman Tom Evans was sold to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese League.
In his return to Toledo, he hit three home runs with seven RBIs and batted .433 in just 30 at-bats.
“What he was doing down there, he brought up here,” Mud Hens manager Bruce Fields said in The Toledo Blade. “He wasn’t taking as many fastball strikes, and the pitches he’s been swinging at, he’s been putting into play with authority.”
So, the call to the majors finally happened, and Patterson was a 27-year-old rookie. He started 10 games in a row at third base and was 9-for-34 with two home runs and four RBIs. He hit his first major-league home run off Diamondbacks right-hander Curt Schilling in Arizona and singled off Roger Clemens of the Yankees the next night in his Comerica Park debut. Patterson added another solo shot six days later at Comerica Park against Twins right-hander Brad Radke.
It was a short-lived audition. Patterson stayed with the Tigers for a month, and in his final at-bat for Detroit, he delivered a pinch-hit triple off Matt Morris of the Cardinals. He returned to Toledo and became a free agent after the season.
Patterson signed with the Royals, but he did not get back to the majors until 2003, when he appeared in 13 games for Kansas City and hit .182 (4-for-22) with no home runs and no RBIs. He spent one more year in the minors and another in an independent league and finished with 1,277 games in the minors with 144 home runs, 811 RBIs, a .290 average and an OPS of .842.
After his playing days, Patterson stayed in baseball as a hitting coach and coach of a youth travel team.
Patterson was killed on March 11, 2020, in a two-car accident on I-65 in Clanton, Alabama. He was the second player from the 2001 Tigers team to die. He was preceded in death by former teammate Jose Lima. Ironically, Patterson’s final major-league home run came on the same day the Tigers re-acquired Lima in a trade with the Houston Astros.
Patterson was 46 at the time of his death. His celebration of life was held at a baseball field – Jack Hayes Field – in Clanton.
“D” Tales: Jarrod Patterson likely told his kids and his youth baseball players about the time he hit a home run off Curt Schilling on one day and singled off Roger Clemens the next day.
Both ace pitchers had excellent days when they faced Patterson.
Schilling, one his way to a career-high 22 wins in 2001, struck out 12 Tigers with no walks in eight innings as the Diamondbacks scored an 8-3 victory on a Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. Patterson had a double and home run off Schilling and added a single off Diamondbacks reliever Mike Mohler for the only three-hit game of his major-league career.
The next night, the Tigers returned home to face the Clemens and the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Clemens was on the way to his sixth 20-win season, and he finished 20-3 in 2001. On that Monday night against the Tigers, he allowed one unearned run on seven hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts and three walks. Patterson had a single in his second at-bat against Clemens as the Yankees beat Detroit 10-1.
That fall, the Diamondbacks and Yankees faced off in the World Series, and Schilling shared the World Series MVP Award with Randy Johnson.
Across from the Kalamazoo River in Riverside Cemetery in Albion, a headstone features two baseball bats and a baseball. It is the resting place of one of the most prominent catchers around the turn of the century – the 20th century.
Deacon McGuire was well known to Detroit baseball fans and baseball fans in general when he joined the Tigers in 1902.
McGuire, a long-time catcher, played for the Detroit Wolverines in the National League in 1885 and 1888. The Tigers were his eighth major-league team in a career that began in 1884 with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, when it was classified as a major league.
McGuire played in 26 seasons for 11 different franchise, and only Cap Anson and Nolan Ryan, each with 27, played more seasons than McGuire. When he arrived in Detroit in 1902, he was 38 years old.
McGuire joined the Tigers to share the catching duties with Fritz Buelow, the starter in 1901 who struggled at the plate. McGuire didn’t fare much better than Buelow, but he still outhit him .227-.223 and had the edge in OPS .624-.547.
The 1902 opener was played at South Side Park in Chicago against the White Sox, and McGuire was 0-for-3 in a 12-2 loss. But less than a month later, sparked the Tigers to a 19-11 victory over the Cleveland Bronchos at Burns Park in Detroit.
Burns Park was the Sunday home for the Tigers as blue laws dictated that sales of alcohol was prohibited in the city limits on Sundays. Burns Park was located just outside the city limits in Springwells Township.
Cleveland scored five runs in the top of the third inning and another in the top of the fourth, but in the top of the fourth McGuire hit a grand slam over the left-field fence to begin the Tigers’ comeback.
There weren’t many other highlights for McGuire and the Tigers in 1902, but one of them came on July 16, 1902, against the Washington Senators at American League Park in Washington, D.C. The Senators led 8-4 going into the top of the ninth inning. McGuire singled in the ninth as part of a four-run rally to tie it. In the top of the 10th inning, McGuire capped a five-run rally by the Tigers with a two-run homer off Al Orth for a 13-8 victory.
Although he did not start in the season opener, McGuire’s role in 1903 was comparable to what it had been in 1902. His average was a little better, but he failed to hit a home run, and his extra-base hits slipped from 17 to 13. McGuire was used as the personal catcher rookie pitcher Rube Kisinger, who made 16 starts and had McGuire behind the plate for the last 15.
McGuire turned 40 shortly after the end of the season, and the following February the New York Highlanders purchased his contract. He appeared in 101 games for New York in 1904, but he hit just .208. His playing time decreased the following two seasons, and during the 1907 season the Boston Americans claimed him on waivers.
Boston had used Cy Young, George Huff and Bob Unglaub as managers in 1907, and they wanted McGuire to fill that role. McGuire had been the third of four managers used by the Washington Senators in 1898, and he appeared in just six games as a player/manager for the Americans in 1907. In the second game of a doubleheader on July 25, 1907, McGuire hit the final home run of his major-league career. It came as a pinch-hitter off Tigers pitcher Ed Siever in the bottom of the ninth inning at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds in Boaston, but the Tigers held on for a 3-2 victory
McGuire stayed on as Boston manager in 1908 but was let go after 115 games. He appeared in one game for the Americans in 1908, and one game for the Cleveland Naps, and the following season he was hired to manage the last 39 games.
McGuire had his only full season as a manager in 1910, and he led Cleveland to a 71-81 record. Seventeen games into the 1911 season, McGuire was replaced by George Stovall.
By that time, McGuire had established a business with his brother in Albion, about 100 miles west of Detroit. It was a saloon called “McGuire Brothers,” and hanging over the bar was a life-sized portrait of McGuire in a Tigers uniform. He signed with the Tigers as a scout and coach in 1912, and that set the stage for his final major-league game as a player.
Ty Cobb had been suspended by baseball for going into the stands in New York and fighting a fan who had been heckling him. The fan reportedly had no hands, but that didn’t keep Cobb from hitting and kicking the fan. The Tigers players chose to boycott a game in Philadelphia, and the Tigers had to recruit local players off the sandlots to field a team. McGuire, a coach, was chosen to start at catcher, went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored, but the Tigers lost 24-2 using several players who would never appear in another professional game.
McGuire continued as a coach for the Tigers until 1915, and he remained a scout until 1926 while living on a farm on Duck Lake near Albion. He coached the Albion College baseball team in 1926.
He endured several illnesses later in life, and he died after suffering a stroke and developing pneumonia on October 31, 1936. He was 72 years old.
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.