Watching the White Sox series and the Tigers' continued inability to go a game without giving up a home run to Jim Thome, I really wanted to dislike Big Jim. I mean, it's easy for me to hate Luke Scott, Kelly Shoppach, and other guys that just seem to pad their stats off Tigers pitching. But I like Thome. And that got me to thinking about the guys I've personally seen play that I've enjoyed over the years that never played for Detroit. Here's the top ten.
10. Bo Jackson
For those of you too young to remember the phenomenon that Bo Jackson was, well, you missed out on something special. Bo was one of the best running backs I've ever seen playing for the Raiders while also playing left field for the Royals. He didn't hit much for average, but when he made contact, it went as far as anyone in history. Bo was also famous for breaking his bat over his knee after striking out. In 8 seasons before injuries ended his career, he hit .250, 141, 415. But the numbers don't reflect what he meant to the sports world at the time. He was just a sight that had to been seen.
9. Dennis Eckersley
I don't know if it was the goofy hair, the silly mustache, or the unique sidearm delivery he had, but Eckersley was fun to watch. He had the best control I've ever seen in any pitcher and was the first guy I ever saw to make the transition from successful starter to elite closer. The Bash Brothers got all the headlines, but Eck was the guy that closed the door every night finishing with 390 career saves. Oh, he also provided the biggest thrill of my young life when he served up the Kirk Gibson game winning homer in Game One of the '88 World Series. Thanks for the backdoor slider, Eck.
8. George Brett
He's a former MVP, has over 3000 hits, and was a member of the '85 World Champion Royals, the first World Series I ever saw. But the thing Brett will forever be remembered for is the "Pine Tar Incident". If you've never seen it, look it up. The guy had the craziest eyes I'd ever seen and when I saw it for the first time as a kid, I immediately fell in love with the guy. Brett was the first non-Tiger that I ever rooted for. Today, George is the owner of the Tri-City Dust Devils, the A ball team of the Rockies...a fact that I find quite odd for a guy that IS the Kansas City Royals.
7. Kirby Puckett
Ex-Toledo Mud Hen, Kirby Puckett, was someone that I think everyone liked when he played the game. He was a chubby, stubby-legged guy that just did everything well. He hit for average, power, and played a great center field for the Twins. Puckett became a national star in '91 during the best World Series of all time, in my opinion, between the Twins and Braves. Kirby hit the walk off homer in Game 6 that set up the best day of Jack Morris' life in Game 7. In 1996, Kirby was coming off of a great Spring Training when he woke up unable to see out of his right eye. Glaucoma ended his career right then. Puckett died of a stroke in 2006 but will live on as the greatest Twin player of all time.
6. Dave Stewart
The stare. That's what I'll always remember about Dave Stewart pitching for the A's in the late 80's, early 90's. To this day, he's the most intimidating pitcher I've ever seen, even more than Randy Johnson. Justin Verlander's recent game day persona sort of reminds me of Stewart back in the day. Stewart won over 20 games four times and was named MVP of the '89 World Series. After baseball, he was the pitching coach in San Diego for a while and is currently a sports agent.
5. Jim Thome
Yes...here he is. Thome has over 500 homers, 385, I believe, against the Tigers. Well, it seems that way. But he's just so fun to watch swing a bat. He's like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, "Everything he hits...he destroys!" In 2003, a Cleveland Plain Dealer poll named Jim the most popular athlete in the city's sports history. Take that, Bob Feller and Jim Brown. But the main reason I like the guy is because he's just such a cool person. He's putting all 10 of his nieces and nephews through college. His one nephew, Brandon, was paralized in '06 and afterwards asked Jim to hit him a home run. And Babe Thome not only delivered, but he hit two out that day. And now a personal story, if I may. After a Tigers/Indians in game in Cleveland, my buddy walked into a bar in the flats wearing a Bobby Higginson jersey. Who does he see sitting at the bar by himself? Jim Thome. He walked up to him and asked Jim if he'd sign his ticket stub. Jim looked at him, gave him the once over, and said "You've got a lot of balls wearing that in here." He then signed the ticket and shook his hand. Jim Thome: Tiger Killer...and a class act.
4. Jose Canseco
Yeah, Jose's a punchline nowadays. But he's not on here because of the MMA, the celebrity boxing, the steroid book, or any of the other stuff. As a kid, I was just in awe of the guy and can't overlook that now. Along with Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson, Canseco WAS baseball to me. Whenever he took a swing, whether he connected or missed, there was an "ooh" from the crowd. He was the '86 Rookie of the Year, '88 MVP, and baseball's first 40/40 man. It sucks to see your childhood heroes fall, but I'll never forget how much fun it was to see him play before he became a shell of his former self.
3. Cal Ripken
The Streak. What more do I have to say? Cal gets credit for "saving" baseball after the strike and I think he deserves much of that credit. He broke Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, won a World Series, won multiple MVPs, and always led the league in autographs signed. Cal was just a class act and one of kind. I resented him a bit as a kid for always getting so much attention as a shortstop while I felt Trammell was ignored. But as I got older, I realized that there was probably no better representitive for baseball than Cal Ripken, Jr.
2. Jeff Bagwell
His crouched stance, stepping backward, and violently uppercutting the ball...that's what made me a Jeff Bagwell fan. I loved his swing. It's the coolest swing in baseball histroy, to me. Bags hit 449 career homers, was the '91 Rookie of the Year, '94 NL MVP, and also won a Gold Glove. He spent his whole career in Houston after the Red Sox traded him for journeyman reliever Larry Anderson. Think the Sawx would like that deal back?
1. Craig Biggio
Why is Craig Biggio my favorite non-Tiger of all time? Probably because he reminded me of Trammell and Whitaker so much. He spent his whole career with the same team, the Astros. After converting from catcher, he was a Gold Glove winning infielder. He hit the ball all over the field, finishing with over 3000 hits. He had pop in his bat, too, ending with 291 career dingers. And he was a good guy, a family man, that was never involved in any trouble. He reminded me of MY guys in Detroit, or at least how I viewed them. The only baseball hat you'll ever see me wear other than one with the Old English D on it is an Astros one. That's because of Biggio and Bagwell.