February is Black History Month, and what better to do than honor some of the greatest men we have ever seen grace the diamond for the Detroit Tigers! Ever since the great Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for professional baseball in April of 1947 the league has been a better place and seen some of the greatest athletes of all-time put their talents on display. Robinson through extreme adversity paved the way for superstars that followed such as Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Ken Griffey Jr., and the late home run king, Hank Aaron.
Black History Month: Best of the Best
In this article, the five greatest black Detroit Tigers players of all-time will be highlighted, and since there are so many more to talk about, there will also be an honorable mention section. Note that all players mentioned were ranked based upon some of the following considerations: statistics, longevity with the Detroit Tigers, accomplishments, and yes many opinions.
Let this article serve as a tribute to Black History Month, and to these great men and all they have done for the Detroit Tigers franchise, the game of baseball, and to pave the way as pioneers for those who came after them in this amazing game! Without further ado, let us get into our list starting from number five, working our way up to number one, and then the honorable mention.
#5 – Curtis Granderson – Outfielder
Coming in at five on this list is a fan favorite of Detroit Tiger fans, “The Grandy Man” Curtis Granderson. After being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the 2002 MLB Draft, Granderson would go on to make his MLB debut in September 2004. What followed for fans of the Detroit Tigers would be about four and half years of excitement and smiles from #28. Granderson’s first full season with the big league club would come in 2006 and he would go on to lead the league with 174 strikeouts at the dish, not exactly a great first act.
However, in 2007 “Grandy” would go on to make MLB history by becoming the third player to join the “20-20-20-20 Club” which is reserved for players who hit at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, and steal 20 bases in a season. Granderson hit 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 home runs, and stole 26 bases that year to join Frank “Wildfire” Schulte of the 1911 Chicago Cubs, Willie Mays of the 1957 New York Giants, and Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies who would also accomplish the feat in 2007.
Granderson would leave the Detroit Tigers in 2010 via trade to the New York Yankees following an All-Star season in 2009 and go on to two more all-star selections, but his accomplishments and contributions to the franchise make him without a doubt one of the greatest black players in Detroit Tigers history. Every year Curtis Granderson is a major advocate for Black History Month as well as Jackie Robinson Day (April 15th), and his Grand Kids Foundation has helped millions of children and families in need, in over 34 major cities throughout the United States.
#4 – Chet Lemon – Outfielder
Any list regarding the “greatest Detroit Tigers” has to include someone from the 1984 World Series Champions, so coming in at four on the “Greatest Black Detroit Tigers of All-Time” is none other than “The Jet” Chet Lemon! Although Chet began his career with the rival Chicago White Sox, his years as a Detroit Tiger will forever be embedded in the hearts of the Motor City faithful. In that magical season of 1984, Lemon would be named to his third MLB All-Star team, while batting .287, cranking 20 home runs, driving in 76 runs, and recording five hits in the World Series.
Through his illustrious 16-year career, nine of those seasons would be spent wearing the “Old English D”. During that span, Lemon would record 1071 hits, crank 142 home runs, and knock-in 536 RBI, numbers that are no slouch for any MLB career stat line. Chet’s defensive prowess was also not to be ignored with a .984 career fielding percentage and his career .355 on-base percentage saw him helping most lineups that he was ever involved in. Without a doubt, “The Jet” is very worthy of being one of the “Black History Month: Top 5 Black Detroit Tigers Players of All-Time”.
#3 – Cecil Fielder – 1st Base/DH
Power aplenty, big Cecil Fielder comes in at three on this list of the greatest black Detroit Tigers of all-time. During his seven years with the Detroit Tigers, “Big Daddy” would lead the league in home runs twice with 51 longballs in 1990, and 44 more in 1991. Fielder would also feed the family by leading the league in RBI three straight seasons in 1990 (133), 1991 (132), and 1992 (124). Fans of the Detroit Tigers during the ’90s were treated to Cecil’s powerful displays daily, but little anyone knows he would gift the Tigers with more power someday in the form of his son Prince who may or may not show up later in this article.
Sharing more “history” in Black History Month, Fielder is the only player in MLB history to ever hit a home run completely out of Milwaukee County Stadium which was home to the Milwaukee Braves and Milwaukee Brewers from 1970-2000. Spectacular as that may be, that was not the only home run history Fielder made during his career, he is also the only Tiger to ever hit a ball over the left-field rooftop at old Tiger Stadium, joining an elite company with three others to ever accomplish the feat in Mark McGwire, Harmon Killebrew, and Frank Howard. How fitting, thrid on this list…300-plus career home runs…coincidence? I think not.
#2 – Willie Horton – Outfielder
How many guys get to say they played 18 years in the MLB? I don’t have an exact number but I’m sure it is an exclusive list. What could be more exclusive than that list? Attend a high school in a major city, then get drafted and play 15 years for the hometown team! Who did that? None other than second on this list, Willie Horton! Coming from Detroit’s own Northwestern High School (now Detroit Collegiate Preparatory Academy at Northwestern), “Willie the Wonder” would sign in 1961 out of High School, and make his MLB debut in September of 1963. Over the next 15 years, Horton would rack up quite the resume, including four all-star selections, 262 home runs, 886 RBI, and a World Series ring in 1968 over the St. Louis Cardinals in which he homered in Game Two.
Horton proved to be much more than just a player on the Detroit Tigers during his time in the motor city. He deserves to be highlighted in Black History Month as well as all baseball history, as a courageous man and a role model to players and people of the city. During the tragic 1967 Detroit Riot, Horton wore his Tigers jersey and stood in the middle of the street amid the violence and pleaded for peace among his peers, an act that is much less likely to be seen in today’s society. Horton is also a well-known influence to current Detroit Tiger outfielder Christin Stewart who has recently received advice and inspiration from the Tigers legend. Black History Month and the MLB should forever use Willie Horton as a model of what a major leaguer should be.
#1 – Lou Whitaker – Second Base
Who but “Sweet Lou”? Lou Whitaker tops this list of Black History Month: Top 5 Black Detroit Tigers of All-Time! While Willie Horton was incredible and has his own chapter in Detroit Tigers lore, it’s a safe bet to list Lou Whitaker at one on the lineup card and first on this list. Ranking in the top five in franchise history in 11 statistical categories, Whitaker solidifies himself as one of the greatest Detroit Tigers of all-time.
Playing an incredible 19 seasons with just one franchise, “Sweet Lou” is in an exclusive company for longevity in the MLB and with a single team. Most people will agree it is a travesty that he has not been elected into the MLB Hall of Fame alongside his double-play partner Alan Trammell and that the Tigers announcing the retirement of his #1 jersey was more than deserved.
During his career, Lou put together a stellar resume that included the following:
- AL Rookie of the Year in 1978
- 5x (consecutive) All-Star Selection (1983-1987)
- 3x Gold Glove Award Winner
- 4x Silver Slugger Award Winner
- 1984 World Series Champion
- 2,369 Career Hits
- 244 Career Home Runs
- .276 Career Batting Average
- 1,527 Double Plays Turned (#1 in History with Trammell)
Need I say more? Lou Whitaker is number one on this list, put it in the books, and put him in the Hall of Fame already.
While full descriptions will not be included as they were above, the following players are more than deserving for one reason or another of an honorable mention for this Black History Month list of the “Greatest Black Detroit Tigers of All-Time”, some may be left off by accident, but let it be known, all of them are appreciated for their time in the game and the Detroit Tiger uniform:
- Austin Jackson – Outfielder (2010-2014)
- Craig Monroe – Outfielder (2002-2007)
- Larry Herndon – Outfielder (1982-1988)
- David Price – Starting Pitcher (2014-2015)
- Tony Clark – First Base (1995-2001)
- Prince Fielder – First Base (2012-2013)
- Dmitri Young – 1B/DH (2002-2006)
- Justin Upton – Outfielder (2016-2017)
- Delmon Young – Outfielder (2011-2012)
- Gates Brown – Outfielder (1963-1975)
- Marcus Thames – LF/1B/DH (2004-2009)
- Rondell White – Outfielder (2004-2005)
- Ike Brown – 1B/2B (1969-1974)
- Rajai Davis – Outfielder (2014-2015)
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