Monday, December 19, 2011
My Five Favorite Tiger Teams
Of course, this being the site where sports journalism goes to die, I had considered doing “A Christmas Carol” with Scrooge Ilitch being visited by the spirits of Ty Cobb, Brandon Inge, and Jacob Turner. But as adorable as Ty’s charming racism was coming out, I just didn’t think it was very funny overall, and scrapped the whole idea.
But I did finally come up with a topic I don’t remember getting into on here before. I’ve covered my favorite players and moments multiple times. But I don’t think I’ve ever gotten into my favorite Tiger teams since I started watching baseball in 1985. So that’s what I’d like to do tonight and take a look at my favorite five Tiger ballclubs of the past 27 years. Ugh…I’m getting old.
5. 2011 Tigers
Record: 95-67 (1st place)
Best Position Player: Miguel Cabrera
Best Pitcher: Justin Verlander
I put the most recent team at #5 since I think it’s going to take a while for it to set in for me on exactly where these guys will hold up in my head/heart/whatever. A little over two months ago, our Tigers won their first Division Championship since 1987. Justin Verlander won the Cy Young and MVP awards while Miguel Cabrera continued to be the best hitter (with apologies to Jose Bautista) in the American League. And due to increased attention to this blog, it was the most personally invested I’ve ever been in a Tiger team. Obsessed is probably a better word there.
And since it’s so fresh in my mind, here’s some of my favorite highlights:
4/13: Brandon Inge hits an unlikely walkoff homer to beat Texas, 3-2.
5/7: Justin Verlander no-hits Toronto as the Tigers win 9-0.
6/5: Ryan Raburn, in a 6 for 52 slump that had everyone (except ME) calling for his head, smokes a grand slam to help beat the White Sox, 7-3.
6/13: Tigers beat Tampa 2-1 in ten innings on a walkoff triple by Ramon Santiago to propel Detroit into a first place tie with Cleveland.
6/14: Verlander takes another no-hitter into the eighth inning against Cleveland, finishing the game with a 2-hit shutout and striking out twelve.
6/22: Austin Jackson, in as a defensive sub, saves the day with an amazing catch with the bases loaded in the 9th against the Dodgers as the Tigers win, 7-5.
6/26: The team retires Sparky Anderson’s number. Your Party Host was in attendance and MAY have, um, had something in his eye that evening.
6/29: Don Kelly pitches. Hilarity ensues. He would catch three days later completing his journey to play all nine positions in MLB games during his career. Sadly, he did not retire afterwards.
7/20: Brandon Inge DFA’d. Fat girls in Detroit wept for weeks.
7/31: The Jered Weaver game. Fucking crybaby.
8/3: Doug Fister wins his first game as a Tiger. I fall in love.
8/20: Detroit beats Cleveland 10-1 as the newly recalled Inge smokes a homer in his first at bat back with the team. Even my jaded ass had a smile on my face.
8/21: OH JACKSON! AJax guns down Fukudome at the plate in an amazing moment to save the game (and Jose Valverde’s save streak) against Cleveland.
8/30: Walkoff homer in the 10th inning vs Kansas City by Little Ramon.
9/3: My favorite game of the year. Trailing the White Sox 8-1, the team fights back as Raburn ties the game in the 9th with a two-run homer and Cabrera walks off right afterward to give the Tigers a 9-8 improbable win. Dan Dickerson’s calls of the homers were epic.
9/10: Inge hits a walkoff against the Twins. We wish we could quit you, Brandon.
9/16: Tigers clinch the Central in Oakland. Yeah…that happened.
Then it was on to upset the Yankees before we all had our hearts ripped out against the Rangers. But after an amazing season like 2011, we can’t all help but be optimistic about 2012.
4. 2000 Tigers
Record: 79-83 (3rd place)
Best Postion Player: Bobby Higginson
Best Pitcher: Jeff Weaver
Purely selfish reasons. This was the apex of Higgy-mania for me. While you dicksnots all make fun of Higginson today based on his last couple years when he was broken down, this is the year I always look back on fondly. Higginson hit .300/.377/.538 with 30 homers, 102 RBI, 104 runs, and 44 doubles at a time when myself and many other Tiger fans were desperate for a hero after so many years of terrible teams in Detroit.
And this 2000 team, in its first season at Comerica Park, could have done some damage if someone would have been bright enough to get them some pitching. Seven Tigers had double-digit homers as even Juan Gonzalez was mildly productive as a Tiger. But with stiffs like Willie Blair, CJ Nitkowski, Steve Sparks, and Dave Mlicki starting games, the team was going to have to score 8 runs a game to win consistently. So yeah…not so much.
But again, this team has special place in my cold, black heart as it was the best of Bobby’s career. You haters can just go eat a pile of giraffe shit.
3. 1991 Tigers
Record: 83-79 (2nd place)
Best Postion Player: Cecil Fielder
Best Pitcher: Bill Gullickson
While barely finishing over .500, this was just a fun team to watch. You had Big Daddy Cecil, a year off of coming out of nowhere to hit 50 homers, again lead the league in homers and RBI. There was the arrival of Mickey Tettleton and his goofy batting stance, cheek full of chaw, and 31 bombs. Bill Gullickson won 20 games, a feat that wouldn’t be equaled until JV’s amazing 2011 season. Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell were still around. Travis Fryman was emerging. Mike Henneman was brilliant out of the pen. Tony Phillips was playing everywhere and being awesome. And Pete Incaviglia and Rob Deer were putting on a show of either homering or striking out in every at bat. In fact, Deer while slugging 25 homers, would only hit .179 on the season. You had to be there…
But like 2000, you can’t win a division without any pitching. Including Gullickson, the team would have eleven pitchers start at least four games each. And Rusty Meacham, Steve Searcy, Dan Gakeler, John Cerutti, Scott Aldred, and Mark Leiter are not starters on a playoff caliber team.
But it was a fun train wreck of a team to watch. 1991 taught me that while winning would be awesome, baseball could still be fun even if your team wasn’t a great one.
2. 1987 Tigers
Record: 98-64 (1st place)
Best Position Player: Alan Trammell
Best Pitcher: Jack Morris
This was the team that hooked me for life. And it didn’t start out that way. The ’87 Tigers started the season 11-19. Not fun. But they battled back and entered September neck-in-neck with the Blue Jays for the division lead. In the last two weeks of the season, they would face each other seven times and each game was decided by one run. In six of the seven, the winning run was scored in the final inning.
Detroit entered the final week of the season 3 ½ games behind the Jays. After a series against the Orioles, the Tigers returned home trailing by a game and swept Toronto. Then, the Tigers clinched the division in a 1-0 victory over Toronto in front of 51,005 fans at Tiger Stadium on October 4th. Frank Tanana went all nine innings for the complete game shutout, and outfielder Larry Herndon gave the Tigers their lone run on a second-inning home run. They would go on to lose in the playoffs to the Twins, but fuck them. That’s not important.
1987 was the year of Alan Trammell. He hit .343/.401/.551 with 205 hits, 28 homers and 105 RBI, finishing second to George Bell of Toronto in a decision that gave 10 year old Rogo his first ever homicidal thoughts. Tram was a beast that year.
Doyle Alexander went 9-0 down the stretch after being acquired for a minor league scrub named John Smoltz. A young kid named Matt Nokes emerged at catcher and hit 32 homers. An aging veteran named Darrell Evans proved he still had it smoking 34 dingers of his own. Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon would each hit at least 20 homers, too.
But it was Trammell and the “M-V-P” chants from the Detroit crowd during that final month that made me a lifelong fan. I’ll never forget it.
1. 2006 Tigers
Record: 95-67 (2nd place, AL Wild Card team)
Best Position Player: Carlos Guillen
Best Pitcher: Kenny Rogers
They came out of nowhere, especially when you consider where the franchise was just three seasons before in losing 119 games. And it was the ultimate team effort as the play of veterans like Rogers and Todd Jones, the emergence of previously unestablished players Curtis Granderson, Inge, Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames, and significant production from superstars Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Guillen all contributed to the team's success.
But the pitching is what put them over the top. Verlander won Rookie of the Year in winning 17 games. Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, and (sigh) Nate Robertson were all solid through the entire season, too. And Joel Zumaya emerged to become the exciting bridge to Jones, the closer.
As I did with 2011, here’s some of my favorite highlights on the season.
4/16: Chris Shelton hits his 8th home run, becoming the fastest in AL history to reach that mark. He would come back to earth not long after that.
5/20: Ken Griffey Jr. puts the Reds ahead with a grand slam. But with two outs in the ninth, Granderson homered to tie the game. Detroit would win in extra innings.
7/14: This one is fun. In a tie game, with two out and two on in the top of the ninth, Todd Jones faced Mark Teahen, who had already hit two home runs in the game. Jones threw Teahen every pitch he could, and Teahen repeatedly fouled each pitch off. Finally Jim Leyland walked to the mound—where he told Jones his visit was a ruse, designed to fool Teahen into thinking Jones would be throwing anything but a fastball. Leyland walked off the field, Jones threw a fastball, and Teahen swung and missed for strike three. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Guillen hit the Tigers' first walk off homer of the season for the victory. After the game, Jones said of Leyland's visit to the mound: "I thought, ‘Wow, you’re a really good manager.”
8/1: Guillen hits for the cycle, the first Tiger to do so since Damian Easley in 2001 and the third since 1950.
8/5: Pudge hits a walkoff homer with two down in the ninth to complete a comeback against Cleveland.
8/30: With two outs in the top of the ninth, Monroe blasted a dramatic three-run home run, erasing a one-run deficit, making the Yankee Stadium crowd shit themselves, and giving the Tigers a 5-3 come-from-behind victory over the Yankees.
Yeah. Then, of course, was the playoffs. Placido Polanco went off and the Tigers took care of the Yankees. Then against Oakland…
Yeah, we lost in the World Series. But I still smile every time I think about 2006. From the intensity of Rogers, to the youthful excitement of Zoom, the leadership of Pudge, the steady play of Polanco, all the way to the long hair and dramatic flair of Maggs…it was a magical year. And that’s why they get my top spot.
As always, thanks for reading and feel free to share any memories of you own.
Not like we’ve got anything else to talk about…