If you've somehow found your way to my rambling, nonsense-filled blog, then you've no doubt by now been to a good blog like Blake's where he's doing a great job putting together a list of the 100 Best Tigers of all time. His list got me thinking about some other Tigers of Christmas Past that were notable players...just maybe not with us. They're mostly guys we got at the end of their careers, or in some cases, let them get away before they became stars. Here's a few you may or may not remember wearing the Old English D.
Vince Coleman, 1997
Coleman was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1985 with St. Louis. In the late 80's, he and Rickey Henderson were the two best leadoff guys in baseball and were unbelievable at stealing bases. Vince stole over 100 bases three years in a row and is still the last guy to break 100. He finished his career with 752 total steals, good for 6th all time. He finished his career in Detroit in '97 playing in 6 total games with us, batting .071, and stealing...zero bases. Sadly, Vince will probably most be remembered for his time with the Mets when he threw a bunch of firecrackers at some fans waiting for autographs...three months after accidently breaking Dwight Gooden's arm fooling around with a golf club. Class act, that Vince Coleman.
Steve Avery, 2003
When you think of the Braves pitching dynasty in the 90's, you probably think of Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine. But Steve Avery was up there with them until injuries got the best of him. From '91-'93, he went 47-25 for the Braves and was a huge part of their success. But he started 135 games before even turning 24 years old and is one of the examples provided nowadays when teams talk about pitch counts and inning limits on young pitchers. Steve tried a comeback with the Tigers in 2003 pitching 19 games in relief before retiring afterwards. He went 2-0 with a 5.63 ERA, finishing his career at 96-83 with a 4.19 ERA. Tough luck, Steve...I was rooting for you...and I think about you a lot watching Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis.
Ray Knight, 1988
You can't be a baseball fan without at least having seen highlights of Ray Knight scoring the winning run for the '86 Mets after Mookie Wilson's grounder made history going through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the World Series. What most people don't remember is that the next game, Game 7, it was Knight that hit the go-ahead homer that led to the Mets winning the championship. For his career, Ray hit .271 with 84 homers and 595 RBIs. He played in '88 for us hitting .217 with 3 dingers and 33 RBIs. Ray'd go on to manage the Reds in 1996 and have a broadcasting career afterwards. And yes...he's still married to Nancy Lopez.
Eric Davis, 1993-94
Davis and Darryl Strawberry were supposed to be the next Williams and DiMaggio...but things didn't quite turn out that way, did they? Eric was a lanky monster at the plate when he came up as the Reds center fielder hitting .293 with 37 homers and 100 RBIs in his best season in 1987. Injuries would batter him the rest of his career, though. He'd play 23 games in '93 and 37 in '94 for us hitting a total of 9 of his 282 lifetime home runs as a Tiger. Davis retired after that '94 season before coming back with the Reds in '96. The next year, he got colon cancer but battled it playing up until 2001, believe it or not.
Gregg Jefferies, 1999-2000
In 1988, I was big into collecting baseball cards. What 11 year old wasn't at the time? And in '88 and '89, Gregg Jefferies was the baseball card you wanted to get...until a guy named Ken Griffey Jr took over. What made Jefferies so great? Well, he was the '86 and '87 Minor League Player of the Year. He was coming up to a talented Mets team that had won it all in '86. He was supposed to be a hitting machine. Not so much, as it turned out. Jefferies for his career hit .289 with 126 homers and 663 RBIs. He wasn't a bad player at all...but there was no way he could live up to the huge expectations. His rookie year with the Mets, he hit only .258. He got a rep as a whiner and ended up being sent off to Kansas City in 1992. From there, he went to the Cardinals where he had two great years hitting .342 and .325. Next was Philly where he got hurt and was never the same. In parts of two years with us, he combined to hit .231 before calling it quits in 2000.
Hideo Nomo, 2000
He's the guy that started the growing Asian presence in the majors winning the NL Rookie of the year in 1995 for the Dodgers. Nomo would go on to pitch a no-hitter in '96 and a second in 2001 for Boston becoming only the 4th pitcher in history to do it in both leagues joining Cy Young, Jim Bunning, and Nolan Ryan...not bad company. However, his year with us was in between those gems in 2000 where he went a disappointing 8-12 with a 4.74 ERA as our "ace". He was released after that. Nomo would keep hanging on in the majors before retiring in July of last year with Kansas City with a career record of 123-109.
Billy Ripken, 1998
Ripken's known for mainly two things. First, of course, he is Cal Ripken's much less talented little brother. Second, was his 1989 Fleer baseball card. Do you remember that one? He was posing with his bat over his shoulder and written on the knob of the bat was a word that rhymed with "duckface". It caused a major panic when Fleer discovered it after the cards were already out. They tried several ways to cover it up including cards with white out, marker scribbling out the word, air brushing, and finally a black box. The white out one is still worth over a hundred bucks today. Billy played from 1987-1998 mainly as a utility infielder hitting .247 with 20 homers and 229 RBIs. He played in 27 games for us in '98 hitting .270, 0, 5.
Fred Lynn, 1988-89
Freddie was the first man in baseball history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same year doing it in 1975 with Boston hitting .331, 21, 105. Ichiro's the only other man to do so. Lynn was a wildman all over the field running into walls to make catches and making hard slides to take out infielders and as a result, got hurt quite a bit. He never quite lived up to his early promise, but did have a long career hitting .283, 306, 1111. He played in 27 games in '88 for us and 117 in '89 hitting .241, 11, 46 before retiring. He's since been inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Phil Nevin, 1995-1997
Nevin was the number one pick of the '92 MLB Draft taken 5 picks ahead of a guy named Derek Jeter. He struggled early on and ended up with us in '95 and never really getting a chance to play much for parts of three years. He'd hit 19 homers and 66 RBIs as a Tiger before spending a year with the Angels and signing with San Diego. It was with the Padres that he finally got a chance to play hitting 31 homers in 2000 and 41 in 2001, despite playing Eric Munson-like defense at third. Injuries would get to him after that as he finished his career in 2006 with the Rangers. Was he a late bloomer or a steroid guy? It's sad that so many guys in this time period will probably have that question asked of them. Like my final player on this list...
Luis Gonzalez, 1998
Gonzo played one year for us after coming over from Houston hitting .267, 23, 71. Randy Smith would then do what he did best and trade him to Arizona for the immortal Karim Garcia. Gonzalez responded by turning into a hitting machine in '99 leading the NL in hits with 206. In 2001, he would hit .325, 57, 142 and I would constantly bang my head into the wall watching Baseball Tonight and cursing our former GM repeatedly. In 2002, a piece of his chewed up, spit out, chewing gum turned up on eBay selling for $10,000 to a crazy collector. Gonzo played for the Marlins last year and is currently one of many free agents still out there.
Notice, there is no Juan Gonzalez on my list. We do not speak of him here. Happy New Year, everyone.