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.
In the first decade of their existence, the Tigers won three consecutive pennants from 1907-1909. Each of those seasons will be covered in this top 20 series. I'll start with 1908.
Like the 1972 team, the 1908 Tigers won by a mere half game due to some odd scheduling. The Tigers had a rain out that did not have to be made up and wound up playing one less game than the second place Cleveland Naps (named after team captain Nap Lajoie). The Tigers clinched the pennant on the final day of the season thanks to a two-hit shutout by right hander Wild Bill Donovan. The final records are shown below:
After the season it was ruled that postponed games potentially impacting a pennant race would have to be made up in the future.
The Tigers scored just 4.2 runs per game and allowed 3.6 runs. At first glance, it would appear that the team was led by their pitching, but remember this was during the Deadball era where runs were scarce. In a league where teams averaged 3.4 runs per game, Detroit scored more runs than any team in the league by a wide margin (Cleveland was second with 3.6 RPG).
As measured by OPS, the Bengals had four of the top five batters in the league - outfielders Ty Cobb (.842), Same Crawford (.812) and Matty McIntyre (.775) and first baseman Claude Rossman (.748). Those are not great numbers by today's standards but, in a league where only nine batters topped .700, they were quite impressive. Cobb also led the league in batting average (.324), slugging average (.475) and RBI (108).
The pitching staff was led by Ed Summers who went 24-12 and finished 4th in the league with a 1.67 ERA in 301 innings pitched. Other key Tigers starters were Donovan (116 ERA+ in 242 IP) and Ed Willett (106 ERA+ in 197 innings). All of these hurlers paled in comparison to Big Ed Walsh of the White Sox who won 40 games and posted a 1.42 ERA in 464 innings!
For the second straight season, the Cubs easily eliminated the Tigers in the World Series four games to one. Ty Cobb had a strong series putting up a .368/.400/.421 batting line-up, but he got little help either offensively or defensively. The Cubs won the first two games 10-6 and 6-2. The Tigers got their only win in game three, an 8-3 decision thanks to a four for five performance by Cobb. Chicago then won the final two games on shutouts by Three Finger Brown and Orval Overall.
The Tigers would get one more shot at the world championship in 1909.
Some of data for this article were gathered from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org