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Detroit Tigers History: Three of the All-Time Greatest Tigers

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For the last six years, and including the 2020 Detroit Tigers, the city hasn’t had much to cheer for in baseball terms. At times, the team has been rich in talent, but a combination of subpar player performances and/or subpar management tactics have left the Bengals of Detroit in dire straits more often than not. What Detroit wouldn’t do to break into the annals of Detroit Tigers history and have three of the all-time greatest Tigers be able to take the field again.

From 2011-2014, Detroit enjoyed a long overdue postseason run. Their last playoff appearance was in October of 2014, where they were swept 3-0 by another infamous American League team, the Baltimore Orioles. In 2013, the Tigers were knocked out in the ALCS, losing that series 4-2 to the Red Sox. The team managed to make it to the big dance in 2012, but were quickly swept 4-0 by the Giants. In 2011? Knocked out at the ALCS round by the Texas Rangers by a final of four games to two. Just a handful of years earlier they lost the World Series (4-1) at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, but prior to that it was an awfully long drought.

Detroit Tigers History: Five of the All-Time Greatest Tigers

Bringing back some of the old Tigers – if possible – may not cure the Word Series drought, but boy, they’d be fun to watch again. Without further adieu, three of the top Tigers of all time. While Baseball-Reference does rank the following five players in the top-24 greatest tigers of all time, the following are not the top-three, as per the Tigers page on Baseball-Reference.

#3: CF Chet Lemon

While Chet Lemon only spent nine of his 16 years in MLB with Detroit (1982-1990), he made an indelible mark. True, his offensive numbers with Detroit (.263/.349/.437) were slightly lower than those from his White Sox days (.288/.363/.451), but Lemon’s sweet swing and solid fielding paid dividends.

Although Lemon never won a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger Award, his level of play and popularity among the fans was good enough to earn him three trips to the All-Star Game (1978, 1979 and 1984). Tallying a career WAR of 55.6. Lemon’s WAR would run an average of 3.5 per season. He wasn’t the best Tiger to don the uniform, but definitely worth acknowledging. Lemon is next eligible for Hall of Fame Voting in 2023.

#2: SS Alan Trammell

Certainly more accomplished (and most likely better known) than Chet Lemon, shortstop Alan Trammel was a lifer with the Tigers (1977-1996). Amassing a career WAR of 70.7, Trammell also managed to collect quite the number of awards during his MLB journey. He earned a Rookie of the Year Award (1978), four Gold Gloves (1980-1981; 1983-1984), a trio of Silver Slugger Awards (1987, 1988 and 1990), and made a total of six All-Star appearances (1980; 1984-1985; 1987-1988; 1990). He also finished as high as second in the MVP voting in 1987.
Over his illustrious career in Detroit, Trammel batted a very respectable .285/.352/.415, while tallying 185 homers, 412 doubles, 55 triples and 236 stolen bases; the balance of his 2,365 hits were singles. Trammels strikeout rate was amazing, just 9.32%, and he knew how to take his walks, accumulating 850 of those along the way.
Trammell was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, with his signature year coming in 1987. That year, manager Sparky Anderson moved Trammell from the number-two spot to the cleanup spot, where Trammell excelled. Trammel became the first player in MLB history to bat at least .340, while tallying no fewer than 28 homers and 100 RBIs.

As good as Trammel was, he doesn’t hold a candle to the all-time greatest Tiger ever.

#1: CF Ty Cobb

Long before the days of free agency, players stayed with their teams for long periods; Ty Cobb was no exception. Playing 24 seasons for the Tigers (1905-1928), Ty Cobb was a beast. In addition to his fielding skills, Cobb was also heavily feared when he took his stance in the batter’s box.
Donning a career slash line of .366/.433/.512 (OPS of .944), Cobb struck fear into the opposition, while striking the cover off the ball. During his tenure, Cobb only hit 117 home runs, but the man knew how to put the ball in play. After a career total of 4,189 hits, Cobb gathered a total of 724 doubles and 295 triples while tallying 1,944 RBIs.
Equally amazing was Cobb’s strikeout rate – just 624 of those in 24 years, which spanned 13,103 plate appearances (11,440 official at-bats). What about walks, you ask? Ty Cobb drew ball four just 680 times in his career, or an average of just 28.3 walks per season. Not a very patient man, but when you bat .366, you don’t have to be choosy.
Cobb was inducted into Cooperstown on February 2, 1936 – his playing time ended nearly a century ago – yet his legend lives on. Tip your caps to the man they called The Georgia Peach.

There are so many great players, but this trio made their own marks in the minds of many, making them the all-time greatest Tigers. Whether Trammel or Lemon, who are somewhat tangible to some of the older fans, or Ty Cobb, who was just a never-seen (in person) legend to people living today, these guys helped make for some exciting Tigers baseball.

The Tigers of Today

While Tigers of yesteryear were phenomenal players and fun to watch, sportsbooks and those that bet the odds are looking forward to the 2021 Detroit Tigers. With legal betting in Michigan now available as of January 22, 2021, you can believe the Tiger die-hards will be betting on their hometown heroes, win, lose or draw.


Despite the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, Michigan figures to cash in big via the online gambling option, as most casinos are either limited to machine gambling, or closed entirely.

Thus far, the Tigers will have their hands full as the 2021 season looms, as the Twins should still be tough and the White Sox have improved exponentially. Kansas City should be much of a threat (as usual), though the Indians could cause an issue for Detroit. The smart money says that the Tigers are a third-to-fourth place team this year, but anything can happen in baseball.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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Michael has been in sports media for a decade, as founder of Last Word On Sports INC, owner at MMA Sucka, and now in an admin role at Overtime Heroics. He is an avid football fan, both NFL and Premier League.