In reviewing the history of the Detroit Tigers, I often think about the best seasons to be a Tigers fan. So, I am writing a series of posts listing the top 20 seasons in Tigers history. There is no specific formula for determining the best seasons, but there are some criteria which I consider carefully. Playoff appearances, especially those leading to world championships are, of course, important. Team dominance as measured by winning percentage and run differential also carries a lot of weight.
While most of the teams on the list did win a lot of games, this is
not simply a ranking of the best teams statistically. Sometimes, a
non-winning season stands out because of great individual achievements
or because the team was unique in some way. I wanted every decade to
be represented and since the Tigers have had a couple of poor decades,
this was a challenge. However, the Tigers have managed to put
together at least one campaign each decade which was memorable even if
it was not a great year in terms of wins and losses and some of those
seasons will also be included.
The entire list of 20 seasons can be found here.
We are down to the final three seasons in the Top Twenty and each has a legitimate argument as the number one season. The 1935 team was the Tigers first world champion. It came during the Great Depression, a time where the city of Detroit needed positive things to happen anywhere they could get it. On the field, it was a powerful team with the highest run differential in franchise history. Finally, the season ended with a dramatic game-winning hit clinching the championship.
What keeps this team from the number one ranking was that they did not win quite enough. They started slow (5-9 in April) and finished slow (12-14 in September). They went 93-58 four games ahead of the second place Yankees, but that's not a lot of wins for a team with a run differential of 254. The problem was they were 19-27 in one-run games, something that was surely a source of frustration for fans throughout the season.
The Tigers had their typical 1930s offensive powerhouse leading the league with 919 runs scored. First baseman Hank Greenberg batted .328 with a league leading 389 total bases and 170 RBI in route to the MVP award. The 1934 MVP Mickey Cochrane batted .319/.452/.450 as a catcher/manager. Second baseman Charlie Gehringer mechanically batted .330/.409/.502 with 123 runs scored.
Detroit also had a solid staff finishing second in the AL with a 3.82 ERA. Tommy Bridges had 21 wins an ERA+ of 118 and a league-leading 163 strikeouts. Schoolboy Rowe had a 112 ERA+ in 275 innings and led the league with six shutouts.
The Tigers went on to defeat the Cubs in six games in the World Series. They may have had trouble in close games during the season, but they thrived in those situations during the series. They won game three 6-5 on a 12th inning single by outfielder Jo Jo White. They took game four 2-1 behind a complete game from right handed General Crowder. This put them up three games to one in the series.
After losing game five 3-1, the Tigers returned to Detroit for game six. They entered the bottom of the ninth tied at three. Cochrane singled with one out and moved up to second on a ground out by Gehringer. Finally, outfielder Goose Goslin hit a game-winning single to right and the Tigers had their first world championship. It was one of the greatest moments in the history of the Tigers.
Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org