The Detroit Tigers have been one of the more proud franchises in baseball history. That was until Mike Ilitch bought the team after the 1992 season. Before their ownership the Tigers had never endured more than four consecutive losing seasons. This year’s Tigers are just 17 wins away from ending 12 years of futility and are very likely to reach the postseason for the first time since 1987. But Ilitch's first year as owner was the Tigers last succesful one.
In the Tigers last winning season of ’93 they lead the Majors in runs scored with 899. They were of course helped by the hitter friendly Tiger Stadium but the offense was genuinely good. The pitching on the other hand allowed a Major League high 188 homeruns which although helped/hurt by Tiger Stadium the pitchers were genuinely bad. The Tigers started the season red hot as after a 12-1 spanking of the defending champs Toronto on June 12th they were 38-22 with a four game lead on the Jays. But just 10 days later a 12-9 loss to Baltimore would start a 10 game losing streak that they could never fully recover from.
C: Chad Kreuter (.286/.371/.484, 30.2 VORP, 16 Win Shares) – This was only one of two seasons that Kreuter played over 100 games in and was by far his best year. This would be the second of seven teams he would play for in his career. Went to Seattle in ’95 and then spent the following year with the White Sox. They traded him with Tony Phillips to the Angels in 1997. The Angels sent him back to Chicago late in 1998. Spent the following year in Kansas City and finally found a stable job with the Dodgers for three years. Began 2003 back where he started in Texas but was released a month into the season.
1B: Cecil Fielder (.267/.368/.464, 27.8 VORP, 17 Win Shares) – Fielder hit 30 homeruns with 117 rbi but those were quiet, big numbers as he was only 5th among Tigers regulars in slugging. He remained a very steady performer but never came close to his huge 1990 season. Tigers traded him to the Yankees for Ruben Sierra in 1996 where Cecil would have a good World Series going 9 for 23. His power numbers would slip dramatically after this and was washed by ’98 being released by both the Angels and Indians. Tried to make a return to Toronto in 1999 but failed to make the team. Has spent his post career gambling away the millions he earned and is now estranged from his son Price Fielder.
2B: Lou Whitaker (.290/.412/.449, 36.4 VORP, 19 Win Shares) – Sweet Lou’s career was winding down at this point but when he was in the line up he was still very productive. Would retire after 1995 when he played in just 84 games but put up a strong .293/.372/.518 line. One of the great tragedies in Hall of Fame voting as he received only 15 votes in his first year of eligibility, failing to stay on the ballot despite being very comparable to his HOF contemporary Ryne Sandberg. Whether Whitaker deserves to be in the HOF or not is open for debate, I believe he does, but it is a joke that he couldn’t even receive enough support stay on the ballot for more than a single season.
3B: Travis Fryman (.300/.379/.486, 56.7 VORP, 28 Win Shares) – This was Fryman’s breakout season at 24 but it would end up being his best season. He actually started more games at shortstop (81 to 68) but I had a choice of talking about Alan Trammell or Scott Livingstone so I of course put Fryman at 3rd. At the start of the year Fryman was at short and Trammell was at 3rd but the Tigers would realize that Fryman was much better defensively at 3rd and flipped them back. Traded to the expansion Diamondbacks after the 1997 season but would never suit up for them as he would be flipped to Cleveland two weeks later for Matt Williams. Would play the rest of his career with the Indians, highlighted by a great 2000 season, and retired after 2002.
SS: Alan Trammell (.329/.388/.496, 40.6 VORP, 17 Win Shares) – Coming off a year where he only played 29 games due to a broken ankle, the other side of the Tigers long time middle infield duo was also still productive when he was in the line up. Trammell of course spent his entire career in Detoit, retiring after 1996. Has faired better in HOF voting than Whitaker but is no where close to being elected, appearing on just 17.7% of the ballots in the most recent election.
LF: Tony Phillips (.313/.443/.398, 46.3 VORP, 25 Win Shares) – The previously light hitting, utility man Phillips had emerged as one of the top lead off hitters in the game due to his great ability to draw walks (132 in ’93) and this was his best year. Would spend one more season in Detroit before signing as a free agent with the Angels. Signed with the White Sox in ’96 who then traded him the previously mentioned deal with Chad Kreuter back to the Angels. In August of that year he would be caught smoking crack in an Anaheim hotel and really who hasn’t? He was released by the Angels before the 1998 season, then picked up by the Blue Jays two months later who would trade him after a month in a deadline deal to the Mets. Returned to Oakland in 1999 for his final season in the Majors.
CF: Milt Cuyler (.213/.276/.313, -7.4 VORP, 2 Win Shares) – A passable rookie year in 1991 some how convinced the Tigers to keep trotting Cuyler out to center for a couple of more years although in just in part time duty, he still played too much. Mysteriously still found part time Major League work for a few more years including a trip to Boston in 1996. But in 1998 he had a historic year with the Rangers putting up a jaw dropping .500/.571/1.333 line. Even with a batting average heavy OBP those number are insane. Oh wait it was only in 7 at bats…never mind.
RF: Rob Deer (.217/.302/.381, -3.1 VORP, 5 Win Shares) – Everybody’s favorite no batting average power hitter, Deer was a poor man’s Dave Kingman. Okay Deer actually could draw walks but holy shit he could not make any contact at all. He was about as true a “three outcome hitter” as you could get and the primary outcome was a strikeout. Did not finish the season in Detroit as he was traded to Boston in August. This appeared to be his last year in the Majors but in 1996 made a comeback with the Padres. In true Deer fashion he went 9 for 50 (seven of the hits for extra bases) and struck out 30 times.
DH: Kirk Gibson (.261/.337/.432, 15.4 VORP, 9 Win Shares) – Fuck him.
Utility: Mickey Tettleton (.245/.372/.492, 31.7 VORP, 24 Win Shares) – Tettleton started 51 games at catcher, 38 in RF, 35 at 1B, 16 in LF, and surprisingly only 3 at DH considering he couldn’t play any position well but hit for enough power that you needed him the line up everyday. Signed as a free agent with Texas after 1994 and spent his final three years there.
Mike Moore (82 ERA+, 3.0 VORP, 7 Win Shares) – A big free agent signing for the Tigers before the season leaving the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum for Tiger Stadium proved very hazardous to Moore’s ERA. The Tigers offense carried him to a 13-9 record. Never effective in Detroit, retired after 1995.
John Doherty (97 ERA+, 15.3 VORP, 9 Win Shares) – I remember little to nothing of Doherty and found little to nothing about him. His baseball-reference sponsor says he hurt his arm so I’ll believe it. Tigers waived him before the ’96 season and was picked up by the Red Sox, pitching in only three games.
David Wells (103 ERA+, 28.3 VORP, 10 Win Shares) – Was released right before the season by the Blue Jays, Wells would end up saving his career in Detroit. Tigers would trade him to the Reds in 1995 in a deadline deal. Spent the next year in Baltimore before signing with the Yankees where he became the GREATEST PITCHER OF ALL-TIME or something. Traded for Roger Clemens before 1999 to Toronto and then traded to the White Sox before 2001 in the “oh we didn’t know Mike Sirotka’s arm was dead” deal. After an injury filled year there he would return to the Yankees for two years. Played with the Padres in 2004 and then joined the Red Sox where is now just fat and injured.
Bill Gullickson (80 ERA+, -2.1 VORP, 5 Win Shares) – The long time mediocre Gullickson was just about at the end of his career here and would retire after the following year.
Closer: Mike Henneman (163 ERA+, 18.3 VORP, 11 Win Shares) – One of Henneman’s better seasons. Struggled badly the following year but rebound in 1995 where he’d be dealt in a waiver deal to Houston for Phil Nevin. Spent his final year in ’96 with Texas.