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.
Hundreds of major league players would miss playing time (mostly from 1943-1945) as they served in World War II. In 1945, the final year of the war, the Tigers won their second pennant thanks, in part, to the efforts of returning hero Hank Greenberg. After missing parts of five seasons due to the war, Hammerin' Hank blasted a dramatic game-winning grand slam on the final day of the season to beat the St. Louis Browns 6-3 and the Tigers clinched the pennant.
The Tigers finished 88-65, a game and a half ahead of an eccentric Washington Senators team, featuring a starting rotation of four knuckle ballers. The Tigers finished second in the league behind the Senators with a 2.99 ERA. Left-hander Hal Newhouser achieved the pitching triple crown with 25 wins, a 1.81 ERA and 212 strikeouts. His efforts earned him a second consecutive MVP award. The Tigers also received strong seasons from Dizzy Trout (113 ERA+ in 246 innings) and Al Benton (2.02 ERA in 192 innings).
The Tigers did not have the awesome offense of some earlier years, but they finished second in the league with 633 runs scored. Despite a great deal of missed time, Greenberg showed little rust batting .312 with 35 extra base hits in 78 games. Outfielder Roy Cullenbine led the league with 113 walks, had a .402 OBP and a 139 OPS+. Steady Eddie Mayo finished second in the MVP voting after posting a 112 OPS+ as a second baseman.
The Bengals faced the Chicago Cubs in the World Series and split the first four games. The Tigers went up three games to two with an 8-4 victory in game five as Greenberg pounded three doubles. The Cubs proceeded to tie the series when third baseman Stan Hack doubled home the game-winning run in the bottom of the twelfth in game six. The Tigers then scored five runs in the first inning of game seven and crushed the Cubs 9-3 to win the series.
The 1945 team was not a juggernaut, but it was Detroit's second championship and would be their last post-season appearance for two decades.
Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org